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Kay Strank, who has a smartphone, laptop and tablet, knows firsthand how Skype can be used to keep in touch with family members. Now, the 76-year-old is part of an intergenerational program at Patriot Ridge Community in Fairborn, Ohio, that uses Skype, a video conferencing app, to connect residents with students more than 20 miles away at Greeneview High School in Jamestown, Ohio.

“I like connecting with the younger generation. I like hearing about what they’re doing for fun. It kind of keeps us in tune with what’s going on,” said Kay, who previously has used Skype to communicate with her daughter in Virginia.

Patriot Ridge residents began Skyping with Greeneview students about three years ago after a staff member asked the school principal if students would be interested in participating in an intergenerational program, said Patriot Ridge Activities Director Karen LeBlanc.

During the half-hour class every Wednesday, residents talk about their education, careers, families and experiences in the military. In September, one resident even shared her concern about family members in Florida who were affected by Hurricane Irma. The freshmen have talked about their plans for the future — where they would like to go to college and what they plan to study. Some students played musical instruments.

“When we Skype, the residents feel like they’re involved and know what’s going on in the world,” Karen said. “It’s an opportunity to bond with the younger generation.”

The class is just one of several intergenerational programs and activities offered at Patriot Ridge, a United Church Homes community.

Hundreds of mixed-aged programs and activities like the Skype program and Camp Ageless, a one-day youth camp at Patriot Ridge, exist nationwide, said Generations United Executive Director Donna Butts.

Donna said intergenerational programs are increasing due in part to the rising number of older adults in the U.S.

“People are living longer and they’re also living healthier. (Older adults are) going to continue to do that and they want to give back,” Donna said.

The programs are a win-win when relationships are formed between older adults and youth. There are psychological benefits for older adults who feel more optimistic about the future and feel they have a reason to get out of bed.

“Young people, they learn not to fear their own aging. They’re not put off by seeing older people. They’re not put off by seeing wheelchairs, walkers or someone with a cane,” Donna said.

Shanon Benton, an English teacher at Greeneview, said the class helps students with communication skills and teaches lesson planning and compassion for others. “It gets them out of the bubble of me, me, me and it shows them that we are all the same,” Shanon said.

Destiny Laymon, a freshman at Greeneview, enjoys the video chats with residents at Patriot Ridge.“It was very nice to hear their stories and their points of view on different subjects. It was also very neat hearing what differences there are from when they were younger to now. Things have definitely changed and it was a unique experience hearing that firsthand from people who were actually there to experience the change,” Destiny said. “This is something I will definitely remember and I hope that this continues on for other generations.” 

In previous classes, Karen said Greeneview students taught residents about iPhones, iPads and apps. Residents have taught students about the “simpler life,” such as living on a farm and what it was like before cellphones, computers and the internet.

Shanon and Greeneview principal Brian Masser received the LeadingAge Ohio’s Social Commitment Award in September at the LeadingAge Ohio Awards Luncheon.

The partnership between the community and the school reflects the growing understanding that connections between elders and children, often vulnerable groups, are an essential part of our national health, according to a 2017 report from Generations United and The Eisner Foundation.

“We are grateful for the many partners who recognize the dignity and worth of older adults in their local communities,” said Kathryn Brod, president and CEO of LeadingAge Ohio. “In engaging in the Skype project, Ms. Benton and Mr. Masser are helping to foster a future generation of age-friendly Ohioans.”

Patriot Ridge Administrator Stacie Ward said she is extremely grateful for the partnership with Greeneview and expects it will change the way youth see older adults.“I love the energy of the students and how they bring out the energy in our residents through their discussions and activities. I think this type of program is essential to providing abundant life in our community,” Stacie said.

Jackie Logan, 89, a resident at Patriot Ridge, said young children seem to be way ahead of people of her generation.“I feel like they are eons ahead of us because they have all of this equipment that we have no idea about. They’ve grown up with this and they’re way ahead of us,” Jackie said.

Jim Hutchinson, 73, another Patriot Ridge resident, said Skyping with the students is interesting. “They’re so full of energy and have so much life left to live. I think we can learn a lot from each other,” Jim said.

Kay added: “Maybe they can learn that it’s not the worst thing in the world to get old.”

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