Academic journal article Generations

Generations Going Green: Intergenerational Programs Connecting Young and Old to Improve Our Environment

Academic journal article Generations

Generations Going Green: Intergenerational Programs Connecting Young and Old to Improve Our Environment

Article excerpt

The generation that destroys the environment is usually not the generation that suffers.'

- Wangari Maathai, 2004 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

Generations are linked throughout time. Health, hope, culture, and community braid together with other elements, to be passed up and down from age group to age group. Perhaps nothing so well illustrates the degree to which one generation cares about future generations as how much it invests in protecting the environment. Learning about and cherishing a healthy environment is taught, not passed on genetically. Elders always have been, and always should be, the keepers of this covenant and have always worked to pass on a commitment to the environment. Intergenerational environmental programs are a valuable mechanism for fulfilling this role.

A Recent Resurgence

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the environment among both younger and older generations looking for ways they can protect and improve it. It makes sense. Older adults are concerned about the world they are leaving behind for their grandchildren and other younger generations. The young are concerned about the state of the world they will inherit. Both populations are often particularly susceptible to the same environmental health hazardsair pollution alert days, for example. They are each at an age when they are more likely to live life in their neighborhoods and have more flexibility with their schedules than working, commuting middle generations.

Intergenerational environmental work is compelling for practitioners working in the environmental arena and for those focused on promoting intergenerational understanding and cooperation. As Kaplan and Liu (2004) note, these programs can do the following:

* Broaden awareness and increase participation among new audiences.

* Add meaning to environmental information by showing environmental health risks to families and communities.

* Provide a focal point for strengthening relationships across the generations.

* Build community capacity.

A rich pool of practice and program models exists and can be used by those interested in strengthening their communities by engaging people of all ages.

Generations United Builds Capacity

As the largest membership organization for intergenerational practices in the United States, Generations United (GU) and our member networks recognize the value of bringing the generations together to improve the environment. We began to expand our work in intergenerational environmental programs in 2003 with a contract from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal of this project was to identify the intersection of intergenerational and environmental health programming and promote the concept to new audiences. GU convened a full-day training event, developed training and promotional materials, and identified intergenerational environmental health programs and program models that could be adapted to include intergenerational strategies.

Based on the training, GU worked with a noted expert in the intergenerational environmental field, Matthew Kaplan of Penn State University, to produce a guidebook, Generations United for Environmental Awareness and Action (Kaplan and Liu, 2004). This publication, available free of charge at, provides a theoretical framework, program development tools, and examples and activities to help those who are interested in developing such programs get started. The guidebook describes a variety of promising strategies for bringing children, youth, and older adults together as partners to explore, study, and work to improve environmental health.

The initiatives highlighted provide rich examples and demonstrate that participants in intergenerational environmental programs display an increased readiness to take action to protect and care for the environment.

In 2005, Generations United received a grant from the EPA to use their earlier work as a basis for building capacity to develop and deliver intergenerational environmental health programs while educating people of all ages about environmental issues in their communities. …

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