She’s Pairing Teens and Elders to Fight Ageism and Improve Mental Health

Innovation Fellow Elly Katz says “it’s a natural fit” to connect these two marginalized groups

Mary Lee Bartlet and Beckett Rogers are almost 70 years apart in age but are “basically best friends.”

Photo caption: Mary Lee Bartlet and Beckett Rogers are almost 70 years apart in age but are “basically best friends.”

What is Sages & Seekers and what inspired you to start it?

Elly KatzSages & Seekers is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that combats age segregation and social isolation through meaningful conversation between teenagers and elders. 

I was inspired to start it over 10 years ago by a growing realization that older adults are underutilized, marginalized and disrespected. What keeps me going is seeing how much these relationships improve mental health for both age groups. 

What problem are you trying to solve? 

Social isolation and loneliness; ageism. According to a meta-analysis, a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol use disorder. 

Our goal is to help every participant see deeper than the exterior of their fellow man…into where the stories live. Sharing experiences of pain, suffering, triumphs, joy, failures and successes allows us to connect on a deeply human level. We go beyond tolerance to embracing humanity. Through this experience, we begin to feel more connected to ourselves, others and our community.

How does Sages & Seekers work?

We enroll teens and older adults in an 8-week program, engaging them in authentic conversation that shatters the stereotypes each has about the other. We facilitate many of our programs virtually, as well as in-person, partnering with schools and senior facilities in Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, and many other cities across the country.

Through following our curriculum, participants develop empathy, respect and a deeper understanding of what it is to be human at any age. 

Why choose a cogenerational approach? 

It’s a natural fit. Many of the issues teens and older adults deal with are mutual in nature, even though they seem miles apart. Both generations are searching for meaning and relevance; fighting feelings of loneliness, not fitting in or being marginalized; and focusing on issues around independence, self-determination and currency in the world. 

Bringing these two age groups together allows them to share and learn from each other, while discovering how much they are alike. That in turn sets the stage for developing empathy for one another and creating more connection across generations in all arenas.

What’s your big audacious vision? If you succeed, what change will we see? 

To reach and enroll enough teens and older adults that we can end ageism. When we do, older adults will be valued for a life of hard-earned experiences. Youth will be respected for their vision, creativity and enthusiasm.

This acceptance and reverence of generations will be reflected in the workplace, offering the collaboration of all generations to solve the world problems we face today.

How can people get involved with your work?

Anyone can enroll in our spring session, which includes 8 online sessions that will take place between April 17 – May 29. Registration is open from Feb 15 – April 1. If you live in Los Angeles, we have two in-person programs happening as well — at Larchmont Charter High School and Pacific Palisades High School.

What’s one of your superpowers as a leader/innovator? 

I love creating solutions to problems. Seeing a possible solution is exciting for me and that seems to help others believe we can solve a problem together. 

Learn more about Elly Katz here