Seattle Foundation Blog

N2N Spotlight: Bridging Wisdom

Intergenerational program brings together middle school students and elders to learn from each other and build connections

June 04, 2019

By Elaine Chu, Philanthropic Advisor

Whenever the middle schoolers get together with the elders in the Bridging Wisdom program, you might find them dancing, making arts and crafts or having a heartfelt discussion about social justice.

Bridging Wisdom, a spring Neighbor to Neighbor grantee, is a two-year program that connects youth and elders by creating relationships, community, compassion and joy.  Located in Southeast Seattle, this program brings together culturally diverse youth from Orca K-8 school and low-income elders from the Esperanza Apartments, an 84-unit affordable housing building for people 55 years and older.

Participants gather around a table

Through the sharing of food and stories, Bridging Wisdom creates a safe and welcoming environment where youth who may struggle academically and behaviorally become listeners, helpers and leaders, and elders who are in isolation bring their histories of civil rights, migration, food, music and past social justice issues to life. The group of about 20 comes together once a week and also engages in fun activities like photography and art projects.

Nancy Henkin, a senior fellow at Generations United, says programs like this are vital. “When implemented correctly and intentionally, intergenerational programs can provide a multiplier effect in which both children, especially those from low-income families and communities, and older adults benefit, and transformative, measurable results can be created for society as a whole,” she said in a Forbes article.

During a recent site visit to evaluate Bridging Wisdom’s grant application, it was magical to see the intergenerational respect and synergy between the elders and middle schoolers. Our visit started with a young Somali girl introducing herself and sharing how she appreciates the wisdom of the elders. That was a special moment, as an elder named Don explained that before the program, she was shy and would have never been the first person to speak up. 

Participants and volunteers dance 300

Another student, Lexi, said the program has made an impact on her life. “I had many struggles in my life and hearing stories from the elders really helped me.  I know this is a good program and we are doing a good job because I see the elders faces light up when they see us,” she said.  Other students mentioned how disappointed they were whenever a meeting was canceled because they wanted to hear what the elders had to say. 

“I enjoy being in the room with these students,” said Ed, an elder participant. “I grew up in Wenatchee and it is good for me to learn from people of all different backgrounds.” 

Seattle Foundation believes in working across generations to make meaningful impact in our communities. The inspiring relationships of elders and students through Bridging Wisdom is a wonderful example of positive change that benefits the community and makes it a healthier place for all.


Learn more about our Neighbor to Neighbor program and the Center for Community Partnerships.




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