Americans are reaching the age of 65 at a rate of 11,000 people per day. And with life expectancies reaching almost 80 years old, we now have a whole generation of untapped potential! 1 For over a decade now, residents of a nursing home in New York have shared their lives–and their building–with high schoolers in a creative approach to exploring the best these generations have to offer one another.

At the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, New York, senior residents have been working with the students of the HOPE program in ways that have enriched the lives of over 400 students and countless residents to date.

This visionary program has the highest graduation and attendance rate of any local alternative high school program. And as Hebrew Home resident Zelda Fassler put it,

“It’s what keeps my mind fresh, its what keeps me feeling young. People say you move into a nursing home and that’s it. But the HOPE class gives my life here meaning.”

Image: An older and and a younger hand reach out to touch a red rose

Source: Pixabay

Bringing HOPE to Hebrew Home

The HOPE program began in 1995 as Hebrew Home CEO Dan Reingold saw a two-fold problem in his community. Firstly, the need to enhance the quality of life for the residents of the home. And secondly, to give young people with learning disabilities who had been adversely affected by their parents’ drug addictions a place to learn in a nurturing environment. 2

Now, the program focuses on providing opportunities for education and vocational training to students with learning disabilities and autism.

Students involved in HOPE split their time between academics and working with the residents. This gives them the opportunity to learn alongside those in the Hebrew Home and to train for jobs in healthcare after high school!

This nurturing environment creates a space for connection between two communities that are very often isolated in society.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, former HOPE student and then 12 year Hebrew Home employee, Channel Reid, beautifully said of the residents she has befriended over the years,

“They believe in you, they give you this love,” she said. “Some of them are just so sweet it’s hard to not be attached to them.” 3

Seeing these beautiful relationships in action is a remarkable insight into the impact HOPE is having on the lives it touches. One of our favorite YouTube channels, Great Big Story, sat down with some of the residents and students to take a closer look!

You may recognize a few faces from an article we wrote featuring the Hebrew Home a few months back. It’s a great look into the lives of the residents, and what aging means for them. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch. It’s sure to uplift you!

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Bringing hope to more people…

So, with what we know about an aging population, and what we already know is possible through programs like HOPE, what can we do to spread more of this kind of work?

I was able to find a great piece from LeadingAging that profiles the HOPE Program. It has some great resources for those looking to start a HOPE program of their own. While I suggest you read the piece in its entirety, here are some of the basics to get you started:

  • Identify the “problem” in your local area; in 1995, it was crack cocaine use. Reingold now notes that they are grappling with opioids.
  • Talk to a local high school about implementing this model, or a variation of it – e.g., the model can be modified so that time spent in a community is part of an existing vocational program.
  • Find a champion who is passionate about the program – and realize it does not need to be the CEO.
  • Educate your community about the benefits of the program. 5

The power of a caring adult…

“Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” —Uri Bronfenbrenner, Child Psycologist, Founder Head Start

The Stanford Center for Longevity partnered with Encore.org and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in June of 2014 for the “Pass it On” conference to gather thought leaders finding a way to enrich the lives of older adults and youth through finding ways to bring them together.

If you have a few minutes, the full report from the conference is an engaging and uplifting look at what’s possible if we are able to bring together the population of people entering retirement and youth that need their mentorship and support. You can read the full report by clicking here.

In addition, if you are looking for opportunities for yourself or a loved one to get involved, you can check out Encore.org’s campaign called Gen2Gen. There, you can find resources on ways to volunteer and have a meaningful impact on the lives of young people. You can also check out their Opportunity Finder to find local ways to get involved!

Have you heard about our movement to promote the #ConspiracyofGoodness happening around the world? Our goal is to empower people to know that their acts of goodness, big and small, are a part of a bigger network of people working towards a better, shared future for us all! To learn more, check out our article!

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We have a tremendous opportunity to change the future of aging and the way young people grow up. There is no other time in history when so many generations have the potential to be deeply connected. What we make of this opportunity can shift the lives of people for generations to come!

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Do you have an older mentor that has changed your life?

We want to hear your story! Take a minute to share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and be sure to use #ConspiracyofGoodness so that others who are doing good work in the world know that they are a part of something bigger, too!

Notes:

  1. Stanford Center on Longevity. “Hidden In Plain Sight: How Intergenerational Relationships Can Transform Our Future.” Stanford Center on Longevity, Longevity.stanford.edu, Sept. 2016, longevity3.stanford.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight-how-intergenerational-relationships-can-transform-our-future/. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  2. LeadingAge. “HOPE Program.” LeadingAge, www.leadingage.org/hope-program. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  3. Sedensky, Matt. “A Nursing Home’s High School Teaches Lessons on Life.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 15 Oct. 2017, www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/a-nursing-homes-high-school-teaches-lessons-on-life/. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  4. [Great Big Story. “Why This High School Is In a Nursing Home.” YouTube, Great Big Story, 4 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE71aiDK1-E. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  5. LeadingAge. “HOPE Program.” LeadingAge, www.leadingage.org/hope-program. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV