Want to Recruit Younger People? Look Within

Want to Recruit Younger People? Look Within

For the past five years, I’ve been working as an advocate for the causes I believe in and for more intergenerational collaboration. Young people like me want more opportunities to work across generations for change, but we also want to be treated as equals.  To...

This Sesame Workshop Retiree Created a 3-Gen Solution to Loneliness

How Innovation Fellow Lewis Bernstein uses Sesame Street clips to “spark discussion, empathy and joy”

Photo caption: multi-generational mentors — Swan senior, teen, and preschooler

Photo caption: multi-generational mentors — Swan senior, teen, and preschooler

What is Swan 3G Mentoring and what inspired you to start it? 

Lewis BernsteinWe are a three-generation mental wellness initiative. In our initial phase, we worked with former Sesame Workshop employees to mentor high school students who, in turn, mentor preschoolers using curated Sesame Street segments that spark discussion, empathy and joy. 

I worked at Sesame Workshop for 43 years because I was inspired by the mission. That’s true for so many people who worked there. We formed an alumni network to steer alumni to do things that would allow us to stay connected to the mission. That’s how this came about. 

We are now expanding to bring in older volunteers who want to make a difference, mentor teens, and experience the joy of three-generation relationships.

What problem are you trying to solve? 

There is a crisis of loneliness, social isolation and depression in America – particularly for seniors and teenagers. And we know that preschool kids benefit greatly from someone who thinks the world of them. 

So the question became: Could we use Sesame Street’s segments, which are highly produced and typically aimed at multiple generations, to engage seniors and teens while supporting preschoolers? 

How does Swan 3G Mentoring work?

The first thing we do is bring together seniors with the teens for training. Then we introduce them to the preschoolers. To date, all of this has happened over Zoom. 

The teen leads the 20-30 minute Zoom session with the preschooler, with that child’s teacher present as a quiet observer. The older mentor observes closely and takes notes, shared during a debrief between the teen and mentor after the session ends. 

This summer we had 21 triads meeting twice a week for 4 weeks. We were shocked at how well it worked. Right now, we’re planning our next session starting in mid-February through March, and we have some other interesting things in the works! 

Why choose a cogenerational approach? 

I worked in television, which has a top-down approach. To make the segments for Sesame Street, we got the top educators and the top talent and tested it with preschoolers. What we’re doing with Swan 3G Mentoring is taking this incredible material and trying to figure out how to make it work for everyone. 

We’re asking the teens what the best segments are to build relationships with the preschoolers and to teach a growth mindset. We’re helping them feel empowered. Preschool teachers have an awful lot to add, too. One teacher said, “The teens are great, but they have to be silly and feel the sense of freedom that we as teachers don’t have!” 

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

The big vision is to create an online, turnkey approach that could be used for a half a year in school, having a course of 12-16 segments, questions for seniors to ask teens, and questions for teens to ask kids. So if you’re a preschool teacher, we could identify teens and seniors, then you would be able to pick out the modules that are most interesting to you. 

We would help you find the right institutions to partner with to find the seniors and the teens and make sure they’re appropriately screened. Right now, we’re working on proof of concept. Then we have to raise money. Our longer-term goal is to create an easy-to-deploy platform/project that brings these generations together for everyone’s benefit.

How can people get involved with your work?

The volunteers who are powering our work currently have a variety of skill sets that have been helpful, but we don’t have anyone (yet) with development or fundraising experience. So if this work interests you and you think you could be of help, please reach out to me! My email is [email protected]

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

When I was 16 years old, I was the head of something at summer camp called Color War. They would split the campers into two teams with different colors and we had to compete in sports, music, creating a play, writing a newspaper and all these other things. 

Everyone was much more talented than me, but that’s when I realized I was really good at getting everyone to work well together. Years later, I realized that’s what I did as a producer, too — I got people to work well together to achieve something meaningful. If I have any special talent, that’s it. 

Learn more about Lewis Bernstein here