Collaboration for Transformation: Young and Old
Bridging Jewish generations can be a transformative experience for both young and old, yet a lack of access, time and funding often limit such interactions and opportunities. Many of our students do not have regular, meaningful contact with the older generation, and many Jewish elderly do not have young family or interactions with children in the local Jewish community. Research shows that elderly adults experience great positive effects from intergenerational programs, including increased connectedness, cognitive awareness and feelings of self-worth, along with reduced sense of isolation. Children experience a deeper appreciation for and connection with our culture, history and traditions, in a way that extends far beyond classroom learning. But with all that goes into optimizing our education and building a sense of community within our school, how do we add intergenerational programming, or any extra-organizational collaborations, for that matter?
Our school, Irvine Hebrew Day School, accomplished this by developing an intergenerational collaborative program with Heritage Pointe, a senior living facility. Our partnership has modeled how well-executed collaborations can achieve shared goals, maximize funding, increase community awareness and support of both organizations, and in our case, build and expand successful intergenerational programming, which has had a powerful impact on those involved.
Successful collaborations between two organizations begin with motivated leaders and a common purpose. However, for such collaborations to thrive, there needs to be a foundation of interpersonal relationships among all stakeholders framed by positive attitudes, trust, effective communication, parallel momentum, flexibility and a belief in the essential importance of the collaborative effort. When we began the collaboration, each person involved recognized the importance of bringing positive energy to every interaction, establishing respectful, open and compassionate communication, and focusing on nurturing meaningful connections between all participants, including administrators, staff, students and residents.
This program began with funding from our local Jewish Community Foundation, which is committed to supporting collaboration among community institutions. We surveyed the hopes and needs of the students and residents, carefully evaluating the survey outcomes, approaching every decision with flexibility and thinking creatively about programming—factors that have helped us to navigate emerging challenges as they develop.
Irvine Hebrew Day School and Heritage Pointe have worked successfully over the past year to pilot Project Elef Dor (Thousand Generations). The program objectives are to purposefully link the Jewish generations of Orange County, California, by building a sense of community identity and connection. Our goals include promoting transmission of history and traditions, inspiring our elder generation to have hope in our Jewish future, promoting positive attitudes towards aging, and providing companionship and joyful Jewish experiences for our seniors. Throughout the nine-month project, we held five intergenerational Jewish-themed events such as matzah-cover making, an interactive klezmer concert, Chanukah celebratory singing and even a LEGO engineering experience, a specific request of both the seniors and students.
Administrators and educators from both institutions developed a program that involved engaging Jewish activities, and simultaneously created a rubric for assessing the success of each individual program and the program as a whole. Participants from both communities were surveyed so that we could evaluate the personal outcomes following each event (what each person walked away with, what was the emotional impact, what did they learn), how connected they felt to their “buddies,” and what they hoped to see moving forward. We found that our students began to view the older generation as a source of knowledge and bridge to our past, and our older participants were most moved by the companionship of Jewish children. Irvine Hebrew Day School and Heritage Pointe continue to assess the program successes and challenges, and we have made adjustments based on feedback from the participants and from the staff.
On one visit of 12 students to their senior friends at Heritage Pointe, Elijah, a third grader, created a matzah cover with paint pens, floral appliques and Jewish stencil motifs. While he and his buddy Esther worked alongside each other, they gave each other advice on color and design options, as Elijah listened intently to remarkable stories from Europe during the time of the Holocaust. The following visit, Miriam sat with Morty, one of the founders of the State of Israel, who shared his experiences building one of the first kibbutzim. As they exchanged tiny Lego pieces and grappled with building a “paper crinkling machine” made entirely of Legos, they giggled as they got their machine to work.
Although not initially intended, this collaboration extended beyond intergenerational programming. When Irvine Hebrew Day School was considering successful fundraising models, we turned to the pioneers of Heritage Pointe’s Diamond Donors program, in which members support the organization through a 10-year pledge. The Diamond Donor founders supported Irvine Hebrew Day School in developing a similar model, called the Golden Circle. Irvine Hebrew Day School became Diamond Donor members, and members of Heritage Pointe joined the Golden Circle, each institution pledging to donate to the other for 10 years, demonstrating our long-term commitment to one another. After the inaugural Golden Circle luncheon, excitement and momentum quickly led to the launch of the Grandparents Club, in which our school grandparents have become more active participants in general school events and take on leadership roles in event planning.
When we thoughtfully utilize our resources in a way that is consistent with our organizational values, the whole community reaps the rewards. At Irvine Hebrew Day School and Heritage Pointe, we were united by a belief that our elder generation and our children are precious resources and community treasures, and joining the two groups brings extraordinary benefit to both. This collaboration taught our children many things about our Jewish history that could not be learned in a classroom and gave the older generation a window into our bright Jewish future. We built a community greater than the sum of its parts.