“Building Bridges” Between Youth and Elders
Over the last couple of months, Virgil Thomas and I have blogged quite a bit about the impacts of ageism on both Elders and youth. In these blogs, we encouraged readers to embrace fully what ageism actually means: “prejudice against someone due to their age.” When we have important conversations around how Elders and youth alike can be victims of ageism, it’s amazing to see what happens.
One of my favorite moments to witness is during the youth track of the Eden Alternative International Conference called Building Bridges. We do an exercise with the youth participants called “Ageism Graffiti” where, on a huge piece of posted paper, they are asked to write down all of the expressions they have heard older people say about young people that have felt judgmental or pejorative to them. At first, they seem amazed that someone is giving them permission to share this, but once it sinks in, they begin writing feverishly, and descriptors like “lazy,” “slacker,” and “juvenile delinquent” start to litter the page.
Once they’ve had a chance to step back and share how it feels to hear these things, we give them a fresh graffiti wall and ask them to now write everything they’ve heard others, including themselves, say or think about Elders that is equally disparaging. As phrases like “senior moment” and “geezer” fill the page, you can just see the light bulbs going off over their heads. Having gotten in touch with their own experiences of ageism, they are now able to see this tender way that they can relate personally to the Elders in their lives.
This moment and many others like it during Building Bridges are a powerful reminder that education is, without a doubt, the antidote to fear. Through Building Bridges, Elders and youth, ages 11 to 15, come together in fun, interactive ways to learn more about each other and the value of reframing aging. The ultimate goal of Building Bridges is to empower youth participants to become change agents at the grassroots level. Living by example, they have the opportunity to play a crucial role in shifting the culture of care and perspectives on aging in our communities. Watching participants proudly step up to the challenge is a beautiful thing.
Dillon Spies, a 2008 graduate of Building Bridges says, “This experience really impacted the way I view Elders. I’ve always tried to show great respect and admiration toward Elders, but before I went through Building Bridges, I never really felt like I understood how they might feel. I learned how fun it can be to learn about their lives and their experiences as a kid.”
On Day One of the track, Building Bridges participants explore the Eden Alternative Principles through Eden Apprentice Training. Day Two involves the power of story, side-by-side with an Elder Storyteller. It all wraps up with participating Elders and youth having the opportunity to share their experience together with conference goers during an interactive General Session. Learn more about Building Bridges at the 2014 Eden Alternative International Conference by clicking here. Registration is limited to only 16 participants, ages 11-15.
Our youth hold the promise of a better tomorrow. It can be different…