INA - Younger and older generations recently reached out to learn more about one another at the first-ever Generations Connect event to be held at Rend Lake College. Many participants of varying generations, demographics and cultural backgrounds asserted that they enjoyed the meeting and considered it to be beneficial.
A group of 28 RLC students and 7 older adults, consisting of college faculty and area residents, completed a 12-question survey about their opinions of how varying generations can combine their strengths for the greater good of academia and society in general.
The survey was given to 29 similar groups who met on university and college campuses throughout Illinois. The purpose was to develop a comprehensive study – the “White Paper” – that will be compiled and presented to the General Assembly. The study is titled “The Opportunities for Education in an Aging World” and was initiated by the Center for Intergenerational Leadership at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in conjunction with the Generations Connect conveners, such as those who participated at RLC on Thursday. Leading the meeting was RLC’s Institute of Lifelong Learning Director Lori Ragland and Liberal Arts/Anthropology and Sociology Professor Sue Tomlin, Ph.D. Tomlin was the recipient of the 2006 Statewide Lifelong Learning Instructor of the Year Award.
The study addresses the strengths and needs of younger and older adults, their contributions and how they can work together for a better world. Participants were asked how frequently they interact with someone of a different generation, whether they would benefit from more intergenerational interaction and to share their opinions on the best way to connect generations on campus.
“Bringing the young and aging members of the community together is an issue that must be addressed and Rend Lake College is all for supporting initiatives to make that happen,” said Rend Lake College President Mark S. Kern.
“I just saw an article today from the associated press that cited a study showing only 46 percent of communities across the nation are preparing to deal with the aging baby boomers and that, in less than three decades, the number of U.S. citizens over 65 years of age is expected to be double what it was in 2000,” he added. “In my opinion, the means to intergenerational involvement are warranted and the outcome will be beneficial to the educational system.”
Those who attended Generations Connect at RLC reportedly agree with Kern.
A focus group made up of 24 students under 25 years of age, three 26- to 41-year-old participants, three who are 42 to 64 years old and three seniors 61 to 80 years of age were actively engaged in an open, friendly discussion about how their generations could deploy their attributes for the betterment of society.
Of those polled, a majority reported that the primary catalyst for an improved world is to raise the bar for achievement in education and retirement, followed by creating a climate of understanding and organizing a volunteer system to involve all ages.
In contrast to nominations for Martin Luther King Jr., Harry S. Truman, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Jesus Christ and Princess Diana; an overwhelming majority of participants chose a relative – typically a grandparent or parent – as their choice of a good leader.
One student announced that her grandmother’s value-driven approach to life makes her a role model whom she admires. A middle-aged participant said she is inspired by the 51 years of marriage her parents have maintained since they were wed at the young ages of 17 and 21.
Of the five groups, most stated that experience was the top contribution from older generations and that creative ideas were the most valued contributions from younger generations. Curiously, only one group out of the 35 participants surveyed reported leadership as a quality associated with youth. Tomlin pointed out that those at the college-entrance age possess vital leadership attributes.
Work ethics became a topic of controversy among the participants.
Some argued that stronger work ethics were found in older generations while others disagreed. One older participant commended the work ethics of her younger co-workers while a younger group member challenged those of some of her elder colleagues.
“The 50-year-olds I work with will do their work and are done ... The 30- and 40-year-olds, they’re just lazy,” she said of her co-workers at the nursing home where she is employed.
A few participants stated that they feel the best ways to connect generations on campus are through curriculum and faculty, a specific organization for intergenerational volunteering and Lifelong Learning programs.
Ragland noted the willingness of participants to involve themselves in future intergenerational initiatives. The surveys showed that 25 were interested in helping plan intergenerational events at RLC, 25 were interested in helping to create a specific organization for intergenerational volunteering and all but three participants would like to attend future focus groups such as Generations Connect.
“I was amazed to see how many were interested in helping plan intergenerational events and create a volunteer organization,” Ragland said.
To summarize the intergenerational meeting, a student said, “Through these types of meetings, you realize the impact different generations make or have made on society.”