That Teen Touch— High Schooler Embarks on an Empathetic Intergenerational Mission
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
By Emily Patrick
When high school freshman Olivia Cederquist attended her school’s extracurricular activities fair, she was on a mission to make an impact. Inspired by her relationship with her grandmother, the Naples, Florida, native was looking for a chance to connect with older adults, especially those who were struggling with isolation and loneliness. Surprisingly, in Naples, where the median age is around 66, there was not one club connecting students at her high school with older people in their community.
So Cederquist created Visiting Teens, an organized effort through her school to connect her peers with isolated older adults. After recruiting the requisite teacher sponsor, a supportive Spanish teacher who believed in the intergenerational mission, Cederquist began recruiting other students and reached out to The Carlisle Naples, a local retirement community that was open to hosting weekly teen visits.
A Slightly Bumpy Start
Creating intergenerational programs from scratch can be challenging. The first visits were uncomfortable, as students and residents navigated introductions and small talk. Over time, the students realized the importance of coming prepared with conversation-starters and structured activities to help deepen the budding relationships. They would meet weekly after school, under the guidance of their teacher sponsor, to troubleshoot issues and plan for upcoming visits.
Once the younger and older participants found common ground, the cross-age relationships started to thrive.
Cederquist made a special connection with one resident in particular, a 101-year-old woman whose life experience resonated with the high schooler as she tried to balance on the rollercoaster of young adulthood, from college applications to personal relationships.
“Sometimes I think about all of the challenges that she’s been through in her life and what she’s done to overcome them. It completely changes my perspective on the problems I’m facing at 17,” Cederquist says. “When you talk to older people, you get a deeper meaning or different understanding that you wouldn’t get from asking your peers.”
What started as a spark from a passionate and ambitious high school student has flourished into a promising intergenerational partnership model in Naples.
Week after week, as participation grew and word spread about the program’s success, Visiting Teens branched out to include students from another local high school. The retirement community engaged these dedicated volunteers to help with other events, including their Annual Summer Olympic Challenge. By the end of the first school year, nearly 150 students were involved in program.
Generations Yearn to Connect
The opportunity to engage young people in creating intergenerational solutions abounds as people of all ages are looking for connection with other generations. A 2017 survey by Generations United and The Eisner Foundation found that two in three adults would like to spend more time with people outside their age group. Furthermore, more than three in four wish there were more opportunities in their communities to meet and get to know one another.
Around the country, young people and older adults are coming together for intergenerational programs, like Visiting Teens, and seeing encouraging results. But these programs continue to be the exception, not the rule. What could be possible if every high school mobilized its young people to visit isolated older adults? What if communities nationwide worked to connect people of all ages instead of separating them? Intergenerational programs can help build stronger, healthier communities for all—because we are stronger together.
Emily Patrick is senior manager for Generations United, in Washington, D.C.
Aging Today NOVEMBER–DECEMBER 2019