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Intergenerational Programs and Possibilities within Cooperative Extension is the title of a pre-conference intensive offered at the Generations United International Conference, on July 29, 2009, in Washington D.C. This all-day meeting was a specialized training session for Extension professionals and their collaborators interested in learning more about intergenerational (IG) programs and possibilities in the national Cooperative Extension system.

View the agenda and click on highlighted links to access the associated slide presentations or handouts.

Preliminary discussion centered on defining intergenerational programming work in general and in the context of Extension. Drawing from definitions used in the intergenerational literature, in particular documents recently published by Generations United, meeting organizers crafted the following statement:

“Intergenerational programming is defined by programs, policies, and practices that increase cooperation, interaction, and exchange between people of different generations, allowing them to share the talents and resources, and support each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and their community.”

It was determined that intergenerational approaches are consistent with Extension’s organizational culture and educational philosophy of working with people of all races, religions, and age groups. It was further noted that intergenerational approaches are consistent with Extension’s tradition of enlisting adults as collaborators and volunteers to promote healthy youth, family, and community development.

Intergenerational work within Extension fits into 10 broad categories:

  • Aging awareness
  • Arts and culture
  • Caregiving
  • Employment
  • Family economics and resource management
  • Health, nutrition, physical activity, and wellness
  • Horticulture and leisure activities
  • Professional preparation and volunteer development
  • Service learning
  • Youth development

Presentations served to:

  • highlight the breadth, underlying innovation, and effectiveness of intergenerational models offered by Extension and its partners, and
  • stimulate further discussion about ways to build Extension’s capacity for employing intergenerational strategies to enrich people’s lives and help address vital social and community issues.

Discussion centered on actions that can be taken at the county, state, and national levels to support intergenerational programs within Extension that contribute to healthy human development (throughout the life span), strong families, and sustainable natural resource, community and economic development practices.

At the state level, State (Extension) Program Leaders have a major role to play in terms of supporting county-based and statewide Extension staff who are interested/ engaged in intergenerational work. State program leaders and Extension specialists are in strategic positions for influencing state Extension administrators and stakeholders to become more aware of the value of intergenerational work and to make such work possible by supporting efforts that cross traditional program boundaries.

Take home messages from the day included:

  • It is not enough to do great work. We all need to communicate with the public, Extension administrators (at all levels), and local and state public policy makers so they know about our intergenerational work, understand its multi-faceted significance (for human development, community development, and agricultural resource development), and have opportunities to become engaged supporters of our intergenerational work.
  • To “justify” our intergenerational work, we must determine (and explicitly communicate):
    • What is critical about these programs that merit an investment in resources?
    • What difference do the programs make?
    • What is their public value?
  • Partnerships are critical for recruiting program participants, establishing innovative and evidence-based program models, sharing lessons learned, and pooling resources.
    • Continuing to work closely with Generations United will increase Extension’s access to information, resources, and networking opportunities in the IG arena.
    • We can be more proactive in establishing linkages with other groups at the university level, such as university alumni and retiree associations, that share an IG agenda.
  • Whereas there is much innovation and passion within Extension for doing IG work, we are only at the beginning stages of an attempt to “get organized” at the national level. Follow-up/ action steps noted by meeting participants include the following:
    • Expand the “advisory group” of Extension professionals (and those who partner with Extension) working to coordinate and expand IG work within Extension. Matt Kaplan will create a listserve for this group and moderate listserve discussion. Contact msk15@psu.edu to join the listserve.
    • Take advantage of opportunities to highlight IG perspectives/initiatives within Extension. This includes conducting presentations at national meetings/ celebrations, such as for the 100th Anniversary of Extension (in 2014), family science specialist meetings, and Extension association meetings (e.g., 4-H and the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences).

There are now three states (Pennsylvania, Florida, and Iowa) with specialists who have formal responsibilities tied to intergenerational program/curriculum development, program evaluation, and Extension staff training.


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