A Bronfenbrenner Center program that connects youth and older adults through advice-sharing has achieved a significant national distinction: approval as a national 4-H curriculum. The designation means that 4-H programs across the country can adopt the program.
Building a Community Legacy Together, or BCLT, is part of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging. The idea began when gerontologist Karl Pillemer began working on a book to capture the wisdom and advice for living on a variety of topics from older adults. Interviewers on the project, some of whom were students, were deeply influenced by their interviews with older adults. Pillemer wondered if this kind of wisdom-sharing interview could provide the same experience to youth participating in 4-H.
Pillemer and his colleague Leslie Schultz worked with 4-H leaders to develop a program that trains youth how to conduct life-lesson interviews with older adults from their community. Young people receive training about elder wisdom and in interviewing skills. They then conduct an interview with an older person, asking him or her to describe the major lessons learned of a long life. After youth interview the elders, they organize the lessons and create a public presentation to share with their community. To date, 150 youth in New York State have participated in the program.
“Older adults are an underutilized resource in communities who have a wealth of knowledge to share, and youth, in particular, can benefit from their life lessons,” said Leslie Schulz, BCLT project coordinator. “Participating youth have consistently expressed a new-found respect for elders and appreciation for the actual advice elders offered during the interviews.”
Early research results have supported this feedback from youth. The evaluation of the program shows that it improves attitudes toward older people and combats the problem of ageism as the youth make meaningful connections with older members of their communities. Youth also learn valuable research and life skills, such as interviewing and data collection techniques, report writing and public speaking.
The BCLT model is based on decades of experience developing intergenerational programs at the Bronfenbrenner Center. “We live in a society that is increasingly segregated by age, in which young people have little contact with elders outside of intermittent interactions in their own families,” Pillemer said. “This program takes basic research on the causes of ageism and the importance of intergenerational engagement, and turns it into a program that can be implemented across the country.”
The BCLT curriculum is offered online to implementers with a full curriculum, tools, instructions, handouts and other materials . Pillemer and Schultz are planning national dissemination activities to encourage both youth and elder service organizations to adopt the program. You can learn more and request the training manual on the BCLT website.