Building bridges between generations

April 11, 2014

Sudbury Town Crier

Andrea WeaverWhen Andrea Fonte Weaver was a 20-year-old college senior, she created a curriculum framework for her intergenerational studies class project and dubbed it "Oldies but Goodies."

Today that framework, now called "Bridges Together," flourishes in a dozen communities across Massachusetts and into Michigan, connecting communities' youth with their senior citizen counterparts in a successful model of collaborative learning. By the summer, the program will have been running for 23 years, and 10,000 people will have participated.

"Bridges is almost identical to when I started it," Weaver said. Then, "I'm amazed. I'm really amazed. I'm amazed that it's withstood time. I'm amazed it's withstood the changes in schools."

Bridges Together, now a 501c3 nonprofit, supports local, state, and national educational standards and targets a variety of school-age groups. Students meet with senior citizens for at least six weeks and touch on topics including "Heirlooms and Traditions," "Ethnicities," and "Schools Then and Now."

"The focus of our programs is on shared experiences and collaborative learning," Weaver pointed out. "Let's come together; let's do some educational, fun activities and let's learn from each other."

In one of the programs, children were asked to draw pictures of senior citizens and describe them, both before and after going through Bridges Together. Most of the drawings feature gray-haired individuals, and several are leaning on a cane or walker. Senior citizens are described in very few words. Among the most used are "old," "wrinkly," "wise," "kind," and even "needs help" or "weird."

After six weeks, the drawings improve - the canes are gone and words like "funny," "smart," "creative," and "fun" fill the spaces below.

"Our media portrays older adults in such a negative way," Weaver said, "so this gives them real-life role models, of what it looks like to be 70 years old, 80 years old, 90 years old."

Weaver recently won an award, the Elizabeth Palmer Peabody Award, from her alma mater, Wheelock College, for her work with Bridges Together, and will soon see an article of hers published in the international Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.

Her interest in the relationships - or, she points out, lack thereof in today's society - stretches far back, she said, from playing Scrabble with homebound seniors to her master's degree in intergenerational studies.

"We have a huge shift going on in our society," Weaver said. "By the year 2050, in our world and in our country, there will be more adults over the age of 65 than children under the age of 15. ... At the same time, we don't have wonderful roles for these adults to move into. They're not the "elders" they have been in previous (eras) or cultures."

Sunday, May 8, Bridges Together will hold a fundraiser at the American Girl Doll store in Natick from 8:30 to 11 a.m. A $20 ticket provides admission to the store, a craft, and a chance to win one of the dolls. Weaver is also looking for anyone who has been impacted by the Bridges Together program. Interested people can call 978-400-6813 or email andrea@bridgestogether.org

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