Notes from the President:
September is such an exciting time at Easter Seals. In addition to being the start of the new school year, we are also celebrating Intergenerational Month, which celebrates and encourages intergenerational connections (bringing together young and old through planned activities that benefit both).
At Easter Seals, fostering intergenerational connections is a key component of our Vision Statement because research has shown that older adults who participate in intergenerational activities have less depression and fewer falls while children who participate have higher reading scores and better social skills! Those are outcomes everyone can get behind and why we’re pleased that Generations United, the leading advocates for intergenerational programs around the world, has named Easter Seals a Program of Distinction.
I can see these impacts every day when I am in one of our Child Development or Adult Medical Day Care Centers. Whether it’s the fun school-age volunteers and older adults have together at our Baltimore Center, reading activities in our Child Development Center of Northern Virginia, or especially a shared art activity in The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center.
When I think about the value that our intergenerational programs adds to the lives of those we serve, I’m reminded in particular of two pairs we helped bring together: Calvin and Micah, and Annie and Owen.
Calvin is 65 years old, and for nearly 40 years he did not leave his home. When Calvin’s mother passed away, his brother Gary became his caregiver and wanted to help Calvin reconnect with society. “After being secluded for so many years, I wanted Calvin to have a better life,” said Gary. “I was on a mission, and that’s when I found Easter Seals.”
Micah came to Easter Seals as a toddler through our Little Warriors program. Even at his young age, Micah had already developed an understanding of and sensitivity to people with disabilities because his Dad was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recovering from combat injuries. “Micah only remembers his father without legs,” said his mother, Victoria. “When he was a baby, he would scoot on the floor with his dad, and that was just the norm for us.”
Two very different life experiences brought Micah and Calvin together, but Easter Seals has helped them form an incredible bond. Calvin and Micah connected because of Micah’s persistence and engaging personality. Most adult friends would circle around the children, excited to participate in the activity, but Calvin would sit on the side lines during activities, engaging only if asked. He was usually quiet and kept to himself, whereas Micah was a little ball of energy. Micah took the initiative of asking Calvin to help with activities, especially arts and crafts.
The relationship soon grew to giving regular hugs for hellos and goodbyes and Micah leaning his head on Calvin while reading books together, and I was curious how such a deep bond developed, so I spoke to Jessica Linnenkamp, the Intergenerational Program Coordinator here at Easter Seals. She shared that “Calvin never seemed to expect Micah to approach him, but he was happy with the attention when Micah did seek it out. Micah was utterly drawn to Calvin, and thus an intergenerational friendship was born.”
Annie is 55, has developmental disabilities, and is so gregarious that she’s known as the “Ambassador of Easter Seals” when visitors come to The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Adult Day Services. She is an advocate for the intergenerational activities. She shared, “I just love coming to Easter Seals every day,” said Annie. “I especially love seeing all of the kids.”
In particular, Annie loves to share activities with Owen, who is four years old. They bonded over a shared love of coloring and singing as well as the shared experience of each being the younger sibling of a big brother. They get together every Thursday morning at Easter Seals. “I know Owen is really excited to see me – he’s my best buddy.”
Easter Seals gives Annie a feeling of community and an opportunity for socialization after she moved into a group home, which can often feel isolating. Easter Seals and Owen helped her rediscover her joy and their relationship has reinvigorated her. “I didn’t expect to make so many new friends here,” said Annie. “I’ve had some rough times, but I am very happy now. I feel like a kid again.”
I hope these stories help you see what the research tells us – intergenerational programming is a boon to young and old, and that’s why it’s such a key part of our Vision here at Easter Seals.