By Aanchal Dhar
Which city in the nation is most focused on bringing the generations together to solve a wide range of problems facing all ages?
Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Sam Liccardo, city employees, a team of Encore Fellows, the Gen2Gen San Jose campaign, key funders, and nonprofit advocates, San Jose is a strong contender.
A few weeks ago, I attended an event in San Jose that brought together city leaders, funders, older adults and youth-serving organizations to share best practices in building intergenerational communities. A few examples:
- San Jose Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services shared new collaborations developed between aging and youth services staff. Together they are designing vibrant, intergenerational programming in community centers that bridges long-standing generational divides.
- Family Resource Centers and libraries are tapping older adults to help create inclusive, high quality, early learning environments for children 0-5 and their parents. The elders share vital cultural traditions like language, food, dress, dance and music with San Jose’s youngest residents.
- Retired professionals from the private and nonprofit sector are being tapped as Encore Fellows by city government departments and hundreds of nonprofits to help solve some critical community concerns.
Mayor Liccardo explained how San Jose is leveraging the talents and experience of 13 Encore Fellows working alongside staff in city departments, noting that they’re injecting agile project management into the city’s planning efforts, drafting a new volunteer policy and developing mentoring programs through San Jose Promise and San Jose Works, just to give a few examples. “We think there are a lot of solutions that this incredible group of people can help us achieve,” he said.
More broadly, Liccardo said, “We are incorporating Gen2Gen strategies in much of our work throughout the city. And together, we think we can help end social isolation for a lot of folks, both young and old.”
Following the mayor’s speech, Encore.org VP Eunice Lin Nichols facilitated a panel featuring Gen2Gen leaders at San Jose organizations. She spoke from her own experience being raised in an intergenerational immigrant household and her decades leading innovative intergenerational programs.
Nichols said older adults working alongside young people can create a safety net for each other — a family of their own making. “There’s no stronger human stance than to spend yourself on the next generation,” she told the audience.
Here are some other key takeaways from the panelists:
Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, Executive Director, SOMOS Mayfair
“It was important to me to have kids in our community see older adults as assets. Intergenerational programs can help us build relationships with others as a source of healing. This is really important, especially living in Silicon Valley. We have a shameful number of young people committing suicide and a lot of people in tech don’t feel connected to community. Let’s use Gen2Gen to build the kind of city we want to live in!”
Dima Khoury, Campaign Director, Gen2Gen San Jose
“We were fortunate to have the sponsorship of Mayor Liccardo — his voice and support. The beautiful thing about Gen2Gen was that it resonated with all the partners. It was easy and people found value in the integration. Consider adding an Encore Fellow to your staff — they’re a great resource! If you take the time to recruit older adults, they’re there for the long run and they’ll bring their friends with them.”
Michele Lew, CEO, Health Trust
“It was important for us to look at lifting community voice, especially in low-income communities, and how they could benefit from Gen2Gen. Recruitment and relationship-building is just part of our day-to-day process.”
Jon Cicirelli, Director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, City of San Jose
“Older adults have these great experiences and histories they can share, and wisdom to pass on. Once you break down the barriers between young and old — that’s an investment in the community.”
Nichols closed the session by sharing her thoughts for any city looking to implement a Gen2Gen approach: With intentional thought and experimentation, along with a broad range of partners, the work can be inspiring, even healing.
Finally, I want to leave you with Mayor Liccardo’s call to action: What one intergenerational action, innovation, or experiment would you like to try in your own community?
For more information and ideas about how you can get started in your city, check out the tips, tools and strategies in Gen2Gen San Jose’s new toolkit here.
Thank you to all of the organizations helping make Gen2Gen San Jose’s vision a reality, including AARP, Age Friendly San Jose, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, and Health Trust.