The UNH Blog

Celebrating Intergenerational Month

Friday, September 28, 2018

By: Katie Cardwell, Community Organizer & Trainer

When United Neighborhood Houses commits to promoting and supporting intergenerational work, I understand on a personal and professional level why it is important.

At the end of first grade my family moved from the neighborhood I was born in to a completely new space. It was the same town, but for a seven-year-old it was a huge change. It meant a new school come September and a menagerie of new, unfamiliar settings. However, what made this transition distinct was less the loss of what I knew and more about what I gained.

Across the street in a large house with a sprawling yard lived a woman named Eileen. Her home put our small rental to shame, but little did I know at the time that her home would become mine. She was an older adult working well past retirement age, caring for her husband with early signs of dementia, and acting as a safe-haven for her adult children and grandchildren.

Despite these circumstances, which I only fully recognized in retrospect, she became my friend. When autumn approached and the leaves turned and fell, she would hire me to rake the front yard. When the holidays came around we would swap baked goods. Whenever my parents were unavailable and I needed a place to stay for a few hours, she was there.

Being seven, then eight, then nine, and onward, the lines between “her” property and “my” property blurred and disappeared. I was as welcome in her home as any member of her own family. I got to know her older grandchildren who were kind enough to entertain a child much younger than any of them.

She was a confidant when I needed it, a supervisor when I wanted to do yard and house work and earn a few dollars, and a mentor. I learned a lot just from observing how she treated and loved her children when they struggled and from listening to her friends and their jovial conversations while I hung out nearby.

I don’t know what my move would have looked like if Eileen hadn’t lived across the street. She certainly became a pivotal influence in my life and someone whose love meant the world to me when I needed it.

I moved out of the neighborhood in 8th grade and did not see Eileen again until I was preparing to transfer to an out-of-state university. A fully-fledged adult, I showed up on her doorstep uncertain if she would remember me. Apparently, all it took was a smile from me for her to recognize me.

We sat around her kitchen table and talked for the better part of an hour. I thanked her for the love she showed to me as a child and she thanked me for letting her be a part of my childhood. She shared stories, things I had forgotten, and told me she knew I would go on to do good things and she was proud to be a part of my journey.

Since September is Intergenerational Month, I want to take a moment to highlight the work that UNH is facilitating to create more relationships like the one I had with Eileen; relationships that will carry children through adolescence, into young adulthood, and likely beyond. Relationships that will also provide a way for older adults to give back and find meaning, to leave their print on the next generation and feel empowered.

In my short time as staff at UNH I have seen this commitment play out across our member settlement houses in several ways. We are currently organizing an intergenerational program up in the Bronx with East Side House Settlement to connect older adults with pre-school classrooms and children around literacy and Kindergarten preparedness with a national program called Jumpstart.

In Brooklyn, East New York Farms, United Community Centers, and the Pink Houses Community Center have come together to promote an intergenerational farm. High school interns are paid to work on the farm alongside older adult volunteers who provide oversight and act as role models. Through this experience they come away with additional adult perspectives and valuable work experience.

Over in Queens, at Sunnyside Community Services and back in Brooklyn in Williamsburg through St. Nicks Alliance, UNH has facilitated intergenerational storytelling. The Gen2Gen programs aim to create spaces for older adults, youth, children, and other community members to talk about and work on issues that are important to them.

All this work aims to not only bring people into a room together, but to create and promote bi-directional relationships between older adults and younger people. My relationship with Eileen was bolstered by the fact she seemed to delight in me as much as I delighted in her. We had a relationship that went beyond mere transactions or pleasantries.

Older people have a lot to offer their communities, and younger people benefit from additional adult influences in their lives outside of their family. In the same way, older adults benefit from having relationships with young people long after their own children – if they had any – may be grown. At the very heart of intergenerational work is the desire to continue to build strong communities where neighbors know and care about each other, regardless of age.

We are stronger together, and that’s why intergenerational work is so important and why I’m excited to celebrate it and the work we and our Settlement House members are doing.

Blueprint for Neighborhoods

Friday, June 28, 2013

On Tuesday, UNH will release a new report, a “Blueprint for Neighborhoods” that outlines policy recommendations for the next Mayor that will help keep New York City  neighborhoods strong, stable and vibrant.   One of its key points is that the human services the government pays nonprofits to provide in communities across the city are as essential as other municipal services like police, fire and sanitation.  While these “uniformed services” are always included in Mayoral budgets and, in fact, often receive increases in their spending authorization, services that are equally important to community health and well-being, like child care, afterschool programs, English classes and senior centers, continue to be cut and continue to rely on reduced, unpredictable, often one-year funding.  This approach not only jeopardizes the stability of the nonprofit agencies the City relies on to deliver these services, it puts entire neighborhoods at risk.   

When New Yorkers turn on their light switches they expect the electricity to flow.  When they open their faucets, they expect the water to rush out.   These are utilities that we have come to count on.  Similarly, we need to provide “social utilities” to the many hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who need predictable child care and senior care, to name but two.  When an older adult walks down the block,  she needs to know the doors of her senior center are still open.  When a young mother looks for affordable child care, she needs to know there will be a spot for her child in her neighborhood.   It is time to start treating these services as “discretionary”.  They are not.  Just like police and sanitation, they are part of what makes New York City a strong, stable and livable city. 

NY Times Letter to the Editor: Social adult day care helps thousands

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

UNH Executive Director wrote the follow Letter to the Editor in response to the article, "Day Centers Sprout Up, Luring Fit Elders and Costing Medicaid"

To the Editor:

Your article (4/23/13) about problematic practices in certain “pop-up” social adult day care programs funded by Medicaid neglects to mention that many legitimate high-quality programs have operated for many years in communities throughout the City.   These programs are operated by several of our members, who are established and well-regarded nonprofit neighborhood-based settlement houses.  Without question these programs have helped thousands of frail older adults with physical and cognitive impairment to achieve a better quality of life while providing welcome relief for their family caregivers.  Abusive practices such as those the article discusses must not cause a disinvestment in these important and legitimate programs: we must not allow the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater.

Nancy Wackstein

Executive Director

United Neighborhood Houses

Changes to New York's Managed Long Term Care Plans

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Today I’m thinking about elder care. Making sure my frail 92-year old mother is safe, supported and cared for is a big challenge in my life.   Luckily, she is at home in her apartment in the Bronx, receiving excellent and caring assistance from two dedicated home health aides.  They assist her with bathing, dressing, food preparation and other so-called “activities of daily living”.  Happily she still is able to be at home, and the care she receives makes it possible for me to continue to work while having the peace of mind of knowing that she is safe. In addition, the fact that she is in the community in which she has lived for over 20 years, surrounded by relatives and neighbors who are familiar, makes for a decent quality of life.  When Mom is able to go down to the lobby of her building, or even outside, it is clear that she is in a place where “everyone knows her name”.   Priceless. 

As a New York City resident,  I am not alone  when it comes to caring for an aging family member.  The growth in spending for Medicaid long term care in the downstate region has nearly tripled since 2003. As spending has ballooned, the State has recently mandated  the move of such individuals into managed long term care plans,  as part of the changes to personal care programs proposed last year in the Governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team plan.  The clear aim is to control costs. In light of these decisions and changes, we’d all better be super vigilant to make sure that people like my mom, who are able to thrive in their own apartments and their own communities with the right level of assistance, will continue to have access to the care in their homes that they truly need.   We must make sure the shift to managed care for frail elderly people centers on the needs of the patient, not on the needs of the State to contain costs.   For more on this shift to managed long term care, see UNH’s newest issue brief “The New Frontier: Social Programs for Older Adults and Managed Long Term Care Plans”, prepared by our policy analyst Carin Tinney.   

Click here to download. 

A "Continuum of Care" from NYC's Settlement Houses

Friday, July 20, 2012

I was really pleased and proud yesterday when I learned that 14% - or 1 in every 7 - of the new awards from the NY Department for the Aging for operating senior centers (now re-named Neighborhood Centers) went to UNH member agencies (View the full list).  For decades, settlement houses have been in the forefront of innovation when it comes to helping older adults remain healthy and safe in their homes and communities.   Our members were among the first to pilot programs that now are well established, like social adult day programs and NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities).

In addition, every day in our City settlement house staff help to keep at-risk older adults in their communities well-fed and well-monitored through Meals-on-Wheels programs and care management.  Some of our member agencies even provide in home personal care services to homebound individuals.  The hallmark of our work with seniors is providing a “continuum of care”, allowing older people to remain attached to their communities and their settlement houses from when they’re perfectly healthy and vibrant through physical and cognitive impairment if it occurs as they age.   So it makes perfect sense to have settlement houses operating such a significant part of the new senior center system.  We believe in offering the services that stimulate minds and bodies, as well as the services that provide a safety net when those minds and bodies begin to fail.  It is part of our decades-long approach and commitment to looking for the strengths in individuals, not solely at their problems or deficits.

Read UNH’s official response.