The population of adults aged 50+ is growing rapidly. Though some have suggested that this growing population of older adults will be a burden on society, others have noted that they’re one of our nation’s “most important increasing natural resources,” with untapped energy and a diversity of talents and wisdom to contribute.
Large majorities of adults 50+not only have the health and functional ability to continue making contributions to society, but also express a desire to do so. Growing evidence also indicates that important health benefits accrue from such continued active engagement in meaningful activities.
The Los Angeles Generation Xchange (GenX) program is an intergenerational, academic-community partnership between the Division of Geriatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
The GenX program is active in six elementary schools in LAUSD; 54th, 59th, 74th, La Salle, Baldwin Hills, and Windsor Hills Elementary Schools. GenX trains and places older volunteers in K-3rd grade classrooms where they work with students to improve academic skills (reading and math) and address behavioral issues (e.g., inability to focus during class sessions, behaviors that disrupt class activities).
Participation in GenX as a trained classroom volunteer offers adults the opportunity to engage in a meaningful and important role helping younger generations while simultaneously gaining health benefits from the social, psychological, cognitive, and physical engagement associated with their GenX role.
We recruit GenX participants from the communities around our schools. The schools are those that are chronically under resourced and underperforming and the surrounding communities are characterized by disproportionately high adult health risks.
The GenX program offers potentially important health promotion for these adults but it is the ability of the GenX program to appeal to adults’ altruism and the sense of purpose and accomplishment they report from working with the children that keep them engaged with the program over time.
Thus, program volunteers receive a more persistent “dose” of health promotion than is frequently the case with alternative health promotion efforts. These efforts appeal to people’s interests by allowing them to do help others rather than simply to help themselves.
The GenX program seeks to improve academic and behavioral outcomes for children by pairing the GenX adults with children in grades K through 3rd who may need a bit more attention and support to succeed in school. The goal is to provide additional resources in the form of GenX team members who can work with students to increase their success rates in meeting grade level standards for reading and math, and ultimately reduce the current inequities in academic success between students attending schools with lower proficiency rates and schools with higher rates of proficiency.
To date, GenX team members have been extremely positive about their experiences and nearly all participants have continued once they joined the program. Preliminary evidence indicates health benefits such as reductions in blood pressure and weight loss as well as evidence of greater physical stamina (i.e., increased ability to climb stairs, faster walking speeds).
Social and psychological benefits include 100% of participants reporting development of new friendships and reductions in reported loneliness. School principals and teachers also report that children have benefited both academically and behaviorally (better reading, fewer office referrals) as a result of the GenX presence in the classrooms.
Even in the face of the COVID pandemic, GenX participants were able to continue their engagement with schools and children. The program was able to provide laptops for all GenX participants and to train them to use Zoom so that they were able to join their classrooms remotely during the pandemic and continue their important tutoring and mentoring for the children.
Data collected during this time also point to the benefits of engagement with GenX, with adults reporting less loneliness and more positive views of their social engagement once they were able to re-engage with the children (and others in their social worlds) via Zoom while maintaining recommended social distancing to minimize risks of COVID infection.
The GenX program will resume its work in South L.A. elementary schools in Fall 2022 with new openings in 4th and 5th grade classrooms (adding to our existing presence in grades K-3rd) as well as openings in all grades at a new, 7th school.
Overall, this intergenerational program seems to live up to its original goal of creating a “win-win” situation where both the children and adults engaged in the program enjoy benefits from their interactions with one another.
For additional information or to become a part of the GenX Volunteer Team, contact D’Ann Morris at [email protected] or call (310) 825-8253.