The MIT AgeLab conferred 2017 OMEGA scholarships on three Massachusetts high school students at a reception held at MIT”s Samberg Conference Center on July 19. Sponsored by the AgeLab and AARP, OMEGA seeks to recognize local high schoolers who work to foster intergenerational connections in their communities.
The impact of social isolation on health and well-being is a salient issue for non-profits, policymakers, and researchers in the field of aging, especially as the older population grows and people increasingly age in place in their homes and neighborhoods. One way to help seniors remain embedded and engaged in their communities is to forge bonds across generations. Speaking at the reception, Michael E. Festa, director of AARP Massachusetts, said, “Disrupting aging starts with younger people. This is about every generation in a community learning to grow old together.”
This year’s scholarship winners developed organizations and programs in their high schools to connect students to local senior citizens and to amplify the voices of older people within their communities. Caroline Collins-Pisano of Noble and Greenough School in Dedham is a founder of the Golden Dawgs, which organizes events including concerts, theatrical performances, and classes both at Noble and Greenough and local senior centers. Anna Neumann is a cofounder of Crossing Generations at Newton South High School, which plans intergenerational social events, conducts oral history interviews with veterans, and organizes opportunities for young people to learn more about global aging trends. Ella Houlihan is a student leader of the Lincoln-Sudbury chapter of Bridges Together, which hosts an ongoing group of older adults for discussions and activities focused around a particular theme, such as resilience.
Also attending the reception were members of the AgeLab’s 85-plus Lifestyle Leaders group, who, in a large group discussion following the conferral of the scholarships, talked about the specific challenges they faced in staying socially connected. Hearing impairment was identified by many as a major barrier to remaining socially engaged in older age.
“While social isolation is profoundly personal, it has powerful public implications,” said Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab. “Whether it’s saying hello to the older person who lives three doors over from you, or organizing an intergenerational field trip for an ice cream cone, it is the smallest human acts that bring neighborhoods, communities, and generations together.”
This story is also featured in MIT News.