These 10 Innovators Use Cogeneration to Advance Economic Opportunity

These 10 Innovators Use Cogeneration to Advance Economic Opportunity

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‘I Want These Girls to Know They Have Limitless Possibilities’

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The Impact of Intergenerational Service

An hour-long conversation provides both proof of concept and evidence of success

By Stefanie Weiss | May 31, 2024

National service in this country is predominantly age-segregated. AmeriCorps largely enrolls young adults, while AmeriCorps Seniors exclusively recruits older ones. As a result, we’re missing big opportunities to pair the complementary skills of older and younger service members to create more effective solutions, bridge divides, and prepare older and younger people to live, work and serve together.

Two years ago, CoGenerate set out to change that by encouraging local AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors projects to deploy older and younger people to serve together.

We reached out to AmeriCorps leaders to enlist their support for the program we call Generations Serving Together. We raised money from foundations to offer grants to incentivize cogenerational service. We awarded eight $20,000 grants, worked with the cohort to help design and evaluate their pilot programs, and facilitated peer-to-peer learning. We wrote, spoke and sponsored webinars to share the results.

Are these efforts making a difference? Last week, AmeriCorps sponsored a webinar, “The Impact of Intergenerational Service: Olders & Youngers Tackling Challenges Together.” The speakers, all 10 of them, provided evidence of the value and impact of older and younger people serving side by side. 

You can watch the webinar here. Some of the key quotes and takeaways are below.

THE PROBLEM 

“The vast majority of national service opportunities are age-siloed, with little to no intentional pathways for bringing age-diverse service members and volunteers together around shared purpose and problem solving. We’re the most age-diverse society in human history…and we’re simultaneously the most age-segregated nation in history. While there are many examples of olders and youngers living together, in particular, in immigrant communities like the one I was raised in, the institutions that surround us are designed to separate us, often for the sake of efficiency.”

“Young people know that to accomplish their goals, learning how to work well with older people is required, but they lack intentional opportunities to build those bridges.

“With as many 17- as 70-year-olds in search of a path to purpose, connection, and economic stability, many youngers and olders are going to look to national service for solutions.

— CoGenerate Co-CEO Eunice Lin Nichols


THE VALUE

“[Cogeneration] is not just a heart thing. It’s a smart thing. This work that we’re doing on cogeneration supports retention, it supports economic opportunity. This isn’t just a fleeting initiative.” 

“What I love about mixing generations and service and volunteer work is that it combines the hard-earned wisdom that comes with experience and making some mistakes with the untainted optimism and enthusiasm of youth. This mix that we have isn’t just nice-to-have. It changes lives.

“I see how this coming together enriches our community, strengthens social ties, and builds a sense of respect and understanding. Intergenerational service cultivates a legacy of empathy, respect and civic responsibility that is cohesive for a resilient and vibrant America.

“The experiences that were shared today, from every corner of this event, underscore the transformative power of cogenerational service. It’s not just about the tasks we complete, but the relationships that we build.”

— AmeriCorps CEO Michael Smith


PROOF OF CONCEPT

“When we decided to bring our AmeriCorps seniors volunteers and our AmeriCorps members who were college students together in an annual convening and in some additional community service days, what we heard from our older and younger national service participants was how much they loved learning new strategies and techniques from each other, and brainstorming together how they could better support their preschool classrooms. It was so encouraging that, in subsequent years, the team launched a cogenerational summer service opportunity. The program was structured so that half of the spots were for college students and half for our older adults. That summer program always received more applications than spots available for either generation. And it proved to me that the generations wanted to come together.

— Atalaya Sergi, Director, AmeriCorps Seniors on her experience at Jumpstart 

“[Working with VISTAs, teachers and older AmeriCorps members and volunteers, we assembled a] multicultural, multigenerational team that ranged in age from 17 to 96. We were able to turn schools into community centers and institutional spaces into places that felt like extended family. It was this experience early in my career that convinced me that intergenerational service is one of the most powerful bridges between age, race, culture and class. More importantly, it’s a chance for young people to develop a different vision for what it means to grow old and through those formative early experiences become the kind of older adults who reflexively care for younger generations.”

— CoGenerate Co-CEO Eunice Lin Nichols on her experience at Experience Corps


EVIDENCE OF IMPACT

➤ In Minnesota and Georgia elementary schools, Ampact paired more than 500 older and younger AmeriCorps members to improve students’ reading and math skills.

“Their age-diverse teams yielded some big benefits — 80% engaged in joint problem-solving. More than 60% said they became better tutors simply by being paired across generations. And half of the AmeriCorps members said being on an age-diverse team helped them establish stronger relationships with their students. Perhaps the most exciting finding is that when older and younger AmeriCorps members interacted more frequently with one another, or over greater lengths of time, positive endorsements received an additional 10% bump.”

— CoGenerate Co-CEO Eunice Lin Nichols

➤ In Santa Barbara, CA, the local United Way sends pairs of older and younger AmeriCorps members into the streets to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing.

“I think that both national service and cogenerational initiatives bridge difference and reduce polarization, so dovetailing them like this makes effective programming.” 

“When we integrate cogenerational collaboration into program design and we remove preconceived notions of what age allows us to do, we’re gifted with initiatives that are better suited to equitable service provision.” 

“It also addresses the recruitment crisis that AmeriCorps programs are experiencing. When you open up your recruitment [beyond] high schools and colleges, and you start to look at who in the Kiwanis organization wants to become half-time AmeriCorps members so that they can give their education award to their grandchild. When you start to think on those terms, then you expand your recruitment pipeline. And you get a more fulfilling service experience from the cogeneration, which helps with member retention, which is part of the recruitment crisis.”

It’s all a vehicle for expanding economic opportunity. In our program, a quarter of these members get employment at the service sites. The rest of them are leveraging their experience for other work and educational opportunities. Nearly all of them stay in our county. So that means that we’re creating this wealth knowledge, this new idea about age diversity within our county, and then it stays.”

“I believe that sparking a greater interest in national service by leveraging age diversity empowers AmeriCorps programs to expand economic opportunity that stays in the local area. And I think that butterflies upward and outward into the rest of the country. So that’s my vision.”

— Lyiam Galo, Chief Program Officer, Northern Santa Barbara County United Way

➤ In Fresno, CA, a team of Foster Grandparents and young volunteers co-design and co-teach a curriculum on emotional literacy to young people at local Boys and Girls Clubs and at the YouthBuild Charter School of California. 

“Oftentimes, especially with older generations, people may feel like they don’t have value, especially when it comes to mental health or social isolation. The whole purpose is to really show them that they do. Grandma Julia is one of the most resilient women I know. I’m learning things don’t always get easier as you get older, but I’m learning she has the skills, the experience, the wisdom to pass that on to Reba. Reba is also one of the most resilient, strongest people I know. They have similar backgrounds and have gone through a lot. To see their relationship flourish and grow is amazing. I’ve seen their lesson plans, and how they go in as a team, and then share their relationship with the students at YouthBuild.”

“[The young people we serve] are experiencing hard times in their lives. And Reba and Julia are there to say, ‘Yes, this is what’s going on, but we’re here to help you. And we’re sort of like a role model to say you can get past that.’ To see Reba and Grandma Julia give that safe place to the students was amazing. So that’s what Generations Serving Together Fresno is all about — building meaningful connections and allowing the students to have that place to be who they are, and to be vulnerable.

— Raquel Padia, Program Coordinator, Generations Serving Together Fresno


VOICES OF YOUNGERS & OLDERS

I became an AmeriCorps member because I was experiencing homelessness. I was chronically homeless for six and a half years, and there was an AmeriCorps member that followed me all the way through for about three or four years, until the day that I signed my lease last year. And that connection will be forever because she’s the only one of the service providers that actually followed me all the way through.”

I really enjoy working with Anna. She’s wise beyond her years. And she’s very driven, and that gives me motivation. She holds me accountable, and she’s taught me how to keep my things arranged and things that I had kind of lost sight of because of what I was going through. So she keeps me motivated to keep going. I love Anna.”

“My goals and dreams are to open my own nonprofit. [Serving] is a great way for me to network with the community and meet people. Anna has introduced me to a lot of them because she’s been doing this longer. And she’s very supportive of everything I do. And she’ll even help me get there. When we walk into places where people are in need of service…it’s Anna and Gina, you know, and it feels good.”

— Gina Quiroz, 58, half-time AmeriCorps member

“Being paired with Gina has definitely shaped my experience beyond what words can express. We are a really good team, and we are very dedicated to sharing our knowledge with the community. I’ve learned a lot from Gina, and I’m a big believer in the ripple effect. So when you empower one person, you’re empowering a whole community. Her passion and her direct connection and support motivate me to be better and inspire me to show up for the community.”

— Anna Arce, 34, full-time AmeriCorps member, preparing for law school

“I saw myself in Reba, and I’m seeing myself in the young adults here… The students come to me and it’s so delightful for me to help them, to talk to them. They talk to me, we’re learning from each other. Coming out of all of this, they’re solving my problems, and I’m solving their problems.

— [Grandma] Julia Fowler, 80, Foster Grandparent for 14 years 

“[Prior to our presentation], my nerves were really getting the best of me, and I’m glad that I had Julia to confide in and go to as a mentor and as my teammate, and someone that I can entrust with my feelings and really give me that guidance, that push to do something better not only for myself, but for the younger generation. And after, when we were done, I burst into Raquel’s office, and I said, ‘Oh my God, we did it.’ It was a really out-of-body experience. And I’d seen the impact that it had on the students. It was a rewarding experience, something that I would forever carry with me, and that gives me that push to keep doing it.”

— Rebecca Cervantes, 36, social work student, Madera Community College


THE POWER OF BRIDGING DIVIDES

“The work of CoGenerate’s Generations Serving Together project is building upon, in incredibly promising ways, what we know at AmeriCorps to be true: National service bridges divides.

“The cogenerational approach is an intentional design choice that asks people to flex and build their bridging muscles. I see cogenerational pairing as a strong foundation to further explore and understand one another’s intersectional identities. So how do things beyond age, like race, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, abilities, shape our unique lived experiences, views of the world and capacity to work towards collective solutions.”

“I heard stories of joy, pride, gratitude and hope today. And ultimately, I believe hope, and its siblings, connection, belonging and community, can outwork, outserve and outlast fear.”

— Jen Leshnower, AmeriCorps Bridging and Democracy Fellow


LAST THOUGHT

“So as we move forward, let’s hold on to the lessons that we learned today. Let’s continue to bridge the gap between generations to learn from each other, and to build a future where service and volunteering are the threads that bind our community together.”

— AmeriCorps CEO Michael Smith


For more information on Generations Serving Together, check out these links: