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American Family


Cisco's Journal:

A personal
perspective on the
Gonzalez family.

People of All Ages

Courtesy of Generations United


The family depicted in American Family is a true multi-generational family. Jess, Nina and Pablito (in addition to the other family members) represent three generations in one household. The family members demonstrate a commitment to one another and exhibit much reliance upon, and communication across the generations. While this family faces the trials associated with the loss of Berta, Esteban's history of incarceration and Pablito's mother's substance abuse, the support from close family members and intergenerational connections helps them survive, keep the family together and continue to contribute to the community.

While the Gonzalez family faces many challenges and stresses, they are fortunate to have a built-in intergenerational support system.

Intergenerational programs purposefully bring together older adults, children, and youth in ongoing, mutually beneficial, planned, activities designed to achieve specified program goals. Through intergenerational programs, people of all ages share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and the community.

Intergenerational Programs: The Time is Now
Historically, the family with its extended network was responsible for the various nurturing, educational, and economic functions required to maintain and support its members. Over the course of the last century, America has become highly segregated by age. While the Gonzalez family faces many challenges and stresses, they are fortunate to have a built-in intergenerational support system. For many in today's society, family functions have been assumed by a range of age-specific institutions. Children attend age-segregated schools; adults work in environments almost exclusive of children under 16 and adults over 65; older adults often live in senior only housing; and both children and older persons are cared for in single age-use facilities (day or long-term care). Furthermore, too few American institutions bring together people of different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, races, and ethnicities in a common cause. Both young people and older adults suffer from a sense of isolation.

Intergenerational programs are an increasingly popular way of sharing resources by bringing young and old together through mutually beneficial exchange. Over the last 35 years, hundreds and possibly thousands of intergenerational programs have cropped up in communities throughout America. These programs have proven particularly effective because they meet numerous needs of old, young, families, and communities and are cost effective.

In many communities, both young and old are working together as partners in service.

Program settings and activities are varied. Older persons are serving as tutors, mentors, school partners, and child care providers in numerous school and community-based settings; young people are providing chore services, friendly visiting, and teaching older people computer skills in their homes, in senior centers, and in long term care settings. All intergenerational programs are structured so that both age groups benefit from the interaction, but in many programs, one age group is the provider of service and the other age group is the recipient of service. For example, older people mentor young children or adolescents; or college students teach older adult immigrants English as a second language. In many communities, both young and old are working together as partners in service. The participants are finding that the collaborations lead to an appreciation of young and old for each other, and the communities are reaping the benefits of their work.

In the interest of clarity, it is also important to mention that although intergenerational programs bring together different generations, they are not usually viewed in the family context. People in the same family can be part of the same intergenerational program or activity, but the term intergenerational usually refers to people who are unrelated, but have been brought together through a program or activity.

Benefits to the Participants
Intergenerational programs benefit all involved. Although many of the benefits listed below are attributed to one age group or the other, it is important to recognize that many of the benefits apply to members of both generations.

Older Adults have opportunities to:

  • Remain productive, useful, and valued as contributing members of society,

  • Apply the skills of a lifetime to new challenges,

  • Live more fulfilled lives as a result of using their skills to benefit the community,

  • Dispel inaccurate stereotypes about young people, particularly adolescents,

  • Learn from young people and forge new friendships and experiences,

  • Develop or rekindle sense of community responsibility,

  • Pass along the value of volunteerism and community involvement to younger generations,

  • Convey cultural information to a new generation,

  • Learn new technology like computers and e-mail, from young people, and

  • Decrease loneliness and social isolation.

Young Participants have opportunities to:

  • Be recognized and valued as productive, useful, and contributing members of society,

  • Share their unique talents and skills with older adults,

  • Gain awareness and appreciation of aging,

  • Dispel inaccurate stereotypes about older adults,

  • Develop a stronger sense of community responsibility and personal contributions to society as a whole,

  • Form interpersonal relationships with older persons who can provide guidance, wisdom, support, and friendship, and

  • Learn about and develop an appreciation for rich cultural heritages, traditions, and histories.

Together, young and old participants have opportunities to:

  • Increase their skills, confidence, knowledge, and contributions,

  • Forge new friendships with members of other generations,

  • Serve as change agents to build a better community,

  • Participate jointly in opportunities that promote and value their strengths, and that identify them as community assets,

  • Serve both as learners and teachers, and

  • Develop a stronger sense of community responsibility and personal contribution to society.

Intergenerational Program Models
There are many model intergenerational programs across the nation, which can be replicated in your community. To learn more about model programs across the country and programs available in your community, visit the Generations United Intergenerational Program Database at www.gu.org.

About Generations United
Generations United (GU) is the national membership organization focused solely on promoting intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies. GU represents more than 100 national, state, and local organizations, representing more than 70 million Americans and is the only national organization advocating for the mutual well-being of children, youth, and older adults. GU serves as a resource for educating policymakers and the public about the economic, social, and personal imperatives of intergenerational cooperation. GU provides a forum for those working with children, youth, and the elderly to explore areas of common ground while celebrating the richness of each generation.

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