Start with the young and the young-at-heart: pre-schoolers and senior citizens.
Add a staff that is cross-trained in childcare and gerontology issues in an environment where both parties feel at home.
Combine with carefully selected activities designed to encourage healthy interactions.
Place in a university setting.
The result is Virginia Tech’s Neighbors Growing Together (NGT) program, the country’s only university-based shared-site intergenerational care program.
The NGT program, a function of Virginia Tech Intergenerational Programs, combines the Adult Day Services program and the Child Development Center for Learning and Research.
The award-winning NGT engages nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences with cross-generation training each year, through their work with seniors and children, while the community benefits from the services provided.
The program connects persons of diverse ages; physical and cognitive abilities; and cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to foster community, understanding, and a sense of well-being.
At NGT, children and adults — or “neighbors” — have opportunities to interact during planned activities such as creative projects, making music, playing games, and taking walks.
They also stop by each other’s program with staff to share snacks, hand-deliver letters, or just visit.
On the whole, the program is more than just sharing activities and helping one another in a community, says Shannon E. Jarrott, director of research for Adult Day Services and associate professor in the Department of Human Development.
Jarrott notes that for children who need a slower pace or benefit from the unique warmth and one-on-one attention that older adults offer, spending time in the Adult Day Services makes a difference in their day.
You can see the value of this shared-care community in the adults' faces as they walk into a classroom of excited children and hear their names shouted in happy greeting, says Jarrott.
Transversely, this holds true for the adults who enjoy observing or engaging with children in the Child Development Center. They, too, benefit from the difference in energy and interaction that occurs when they spontaneously visit their neighbors, Jarrott says.
Uniquely positioned to advance the field of intergenerational programs, NGT is more than just sharing in activities and helping another in a community. They also encourage mutually beneficial relationships for all participants.
Research measuring the benefits of mixing generations is conducted, as well.
The two generations provide support for each other through activities “created with specific goals and objectives such as cooperation, exercising motor skills, or exercising creativity,” says Jarrott, who is the leading researcher.
Jarrott notes that even people with moderate and severe dementia benefit from being with youngsters. For instance, Jarrott’s team found that senior participants in intergenerational activities displayed improved mood and interaction both during and after time spent with children.
Virginia Tech’s Intergenerational Program is expanding and working to provide additional information and training to those with interest.
For example, in 2007, Virginia Tech was able to initiate a subsequent project — the Living History Project — with Blacksburg Middle School, courtesy of a Community Capacity Building Grant from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
The project addresses curriculum needs, such as interviewing skills and historical interpretation by connecting middle-school students with participants in the Adult Day Services program.
Moreover, Jarrott, along with other Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students, lead workshops on developing and evaluating intergenerational programs at national and international conferences.
Jarrott also serves as a consultant to other related programs across the state, and is lead investigator for an adult day-care research study at ONEgeneration, an intergenerational program facility in California. She recently authored “Tried and True,” a book about intergenerational programming activities, published by Generations United.
Faculty and students in Virginia Tech's Department of Human Development are actively involved with intergenerational research, and they present their findings widely through conferences and research journals.
In addition, Human Development also offers an undergraduate course in intergenerational and aging issues.
Adult Day Services
Child Development Center
See inside the Department of Human Development.
Look through previous Spotlight stories