Connecting the Generations

by Veronica Leonard

At the Tamil Eelam Society in Scarborough Ontario, youth are helping the seniors in their community adjust to their new life in Canada through a Seniors Forum called, Bridging the Intergenerational Gap. Funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the project builds on the fact that youth usually adjust quite quickly to a new country but seniors are often very isolated both by the new language and culture.

“Youths and seniors are engaged in discussions, debates, games, learning computer skills and conversational English etc.” said S.A. Suresh the Executive Director of TESOC. “I have attended their sessions and am surprised to see how seniors and youths are getting along in this program. Youths started requesting seniors to organize some cookery lessons. It shows that these two groups have something to share and these activities can definitely build their relationship.”

One of the young people explained. “We discuss cultural differences, childhood experiences and teach some conversational English. It was interesting how the seniors shared the same childhood experiences as us but in a slightly different context. At the end of the day, we would be talking about the communication gap between the youth and their parents and they would talk about their relationship with their children. We would joke that both of our generations are on the right track, but as for the middle generation (our parents / their children) we couldn’t say the same!”

In addition, the centre has created a small library and drop-in space for seniors to come in during weekdays and plan various activities like learning to use the internet, email and word processing programs.

The seniors have been very happy to be sharing activities with youth and have a sense that they are being recognized and included as still having something to give.

Programs like this linking youth and seniors are happening all over Canada.

The Penticton and District Multicultural Society in BC are running a project called ‘Through Your Eyes’ matching isolated seniors and youth in making a DVD about the immigrant experience. The youth act as interpreters and share their computer skills, while the seniors pass on their experience and wisdom. The seniors are involved in all aspects of making the DVD.

The African Community Services of Peel, Ontario are having seniors share their before and after immigration experience through traditional storytelling. These are recorded on video and also written in a book to share with the community.

The youth and other volunteers act as interpreters. There are also weekly intergenerational events including dance, arts, crafts and local field trips.

In Vancouver BC, the Japanese Community Volunteer Association, called Tonari Gumi, have a seniors’ project to write a Japanese cookbook for the Canadian kitchen. The project brought together Japanese seniors with the younger generation to collect and preserve traditional Japanese recipes. Over 200 recipes were tested and photographed at the Tonari Gumi kitchen and the seniors conducted cooking classes for younger members of the community, many of whom did not know how to cook a traditional Japanese meal. The cookbook project helped many isolated seniors get involved with other seniors and youth in their community.

The passing down of traditional arts and crafts has also been a goal of a seniors project in Nova Scotia. The Lunenburg Beaches Hospitality Society ran a project called “At Grandmother’s Knee” which matches up seniors with the younger generation to teach the craft of rug hooking.

Other projects have used the program to have youth help seniors use new technology like cell phones, MP3 players, PVR players for their TVs, email and webcams. Many projects in the past year have included the purchase of Nintendo Wii games systems, so that seniors and youth can challenge each other to Wii Sports activities like bowling, table tennis, or golf.

All of these projects are funded by the New Horizons for Seniors Program available through Service Canada. Once a year in April or May, there is a call for proposals for New Horizons projects in the Community Participation and Leadership program posted on the Service Canada website. Interested groups can follow the links from Service Delivery Partners on the Home Page at www.servicecanada.gc.ca to Partnership Initiatives and Funding Programs and then the link to New Horizons for seniors.

The Program funds projects that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their communities by sharing their knowledge, wisdom and experiences with others, improving facilities for seniors' programs and activities, or raising awareness of elder abuse.

The program gives a grant of up to $25,000 to established non-profit organizations whose projects have been approved. There are restrictions on how the money can be spent. Only 25 percent can pay for administration costs and no more than $10,000 can be spent on new equipment and other capital costs. Funds may be spent on rental, supplies, publication costs, equipment rental, meals, transportation and fees for professional speakers.

Senior volunteers, people over 50 years old, must be involved in all parts of the planning and delivery of the program. The projects must be new activities, not already being carried out by the organization, and must be completed within twelve months of being approved.

Projects generally help isolated seniors to be more active participants in their community through activities that help improve the quality of their lives through learning, sharing experiences or activities with the younger generation. Other activities include conferences, forums, and the development of resource materials such as books, videos and DVDs.

Each province has their own priorities to help them select which project to fund. In Ontario, funding was given to projects in 2009 that increased the understanding of senior’s issues, elder abuse, the environment, intergenerational connections, multiculturalism, partnerships, social issues and volunteerism.

The Community and Leadership Development Grants are open for application in the spring and there is also a Capital Equipment grant that can be applied for in the fall, September – October, that can be used to help pay for repairs and upgrades for buildings used by seniors and the replacement or purchase of furniture and equipment.

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