The MIT AgeLab, in partnership with Five Star Senior Living and AARP, MA, held its seventh – and first-ever virtual – OMEGA Summit, a collaborative, knowledge-sharing session for high school students interested in establishing or growing intergenerational programs in their communities.
Held over Zoom, the online teleconferencing platform, the Summit attracted high school students from across the United States, including Alabama, Illinois, and New England, as well as hosting professionals in the field of aging, previous OMEGA scholarship winners, and members of the AgeLab’s 85+ Lifestyle Leaders panel of adults ages 85 and older.
The Summit began with opening comments from MIT AgeLab researcher and OMEGA coordinator, Taylor Patskanick, AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin, Massachusetts State Director of AARP, Mike Festa, and Director of Sales Training at Five Star Senior Living, Roxy Mast. The Summit featured panel presentations from professionals with experience in intergenerational programming, who offered advice to students for developing and sustaining a successful program. Cynthia Wilkerson, who works for a group in Massachusetts called Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, talked about the challenge of bridging the “digital divide” between younger and older adults, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think that's a really important part of advocacy,” she said, “that our students and our families and our younger adults need [Internet] access, but so do older adults. They need access to the Internet and they need access to accessible and respectful tech support and training.”
Student participants were also split into breakout groups to brainstorm and discuss developing and/or joining intergenerational programs in subject areas of interest to them. In one subgroup focused on art and design-focused intergenerational programming, students discussed how art provides recourse to a “universal language” that can bridge the gaps in age, including breaking down age-related stereotypes.
Providing a summation of the goals of the Summit, AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin said, “If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that intergenerational connections, overcoming the barriers of social isolation and physical distancing, and coming up with new ideas and activities that can have their own legacy are more important than ever.”
The OMEGA Summit is an event within MIT AgeLab’s OMEGA initiative, supporting the efforts of high school students to create or contribute to programs bringing together the generations. OMEGA Scholarships award high school juniors and seniors who have championed intergenerational programs in their communities.