InterGenNS: A Community Engaged Intergenerational Project in the North Shore

January 18, 2022

This blog is co-authored by Rachelle Patille, MA graduate student, SFU Department of Gerontology, and Habib Chaudhury, Professor, Department of Gerontology, and June Maynard, founding member of the InterGenNS Community Group. The authors worked on a research project funding in part through CERi’s Community-Engaged Research Funding Program.

Life in contemporary society is segregated by age providing little opportunity for meaningful interaction among generations.

More than ever, it is now socially common for family members to live in distant geographical locations, making it increasingly difficult to sustain close ties between generations. These social factors were among the driving forces that brought a community of individuals and sectors together to advocate and facilitate integration among ages in the North Shore of British Columbia.


Why InterGenNS?

June Maynard, a resident of North Shore, has been passionate about this issue and started an initiative in hopes to bring awareness to the topic of intergenerational connections in the community. Her drive and dedication facilitated the creation of the InterGenNS Community Group, which is comprised of diverse representatives from over 20 organizations in the North Shore.

Shortly after the InterGenNS Community Group was created, the InterGenNS Steering Committee was formed to mobilize, enhance awareness, and investigate the current state of intergenerational initiatives on the North Shore community. Habib Chaudhury, Professor in the Department of Gerontology and a member of the InterGenNS Community Group and Steering Committee, explored support for a possible partnership between SFU Gerontology and the community. SFU Gerontology and North Shore Community Resources (NSCS) were successful in receiving a grant from the Community-Engaged Research Initiative’s (CERi) Community-Engaged Research Funding Program. Rachelle Patille, a new graduate student in the MA in Gerontology program, was keenly interested in intergenerational programming, relationships, and connections. The stars aligned and Rachelle committed to the work on the InterGenNS Project. After a few months of collective brainstorming and working, the InterGenNS Project became a reality at a critical time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CERi provided the perfect opportunity for the InterGenNS Project to bring together community agencies/partners, community members, students, and the research community. Working closely with the InterGenNS Steering Committee and the North Shore community at large was the key factor that ensured success of this project.


Community voices are key

The Steering Committee members are diverse, dynamic and have an array of community contacts on the North Shore. As this project was strongly community-driven, it allowed for unique possibilities of community engagement, which in turn contributed to depth and breadth in the research. Working collaboratively with the Steering Committee members through each stage of the project deliverables allowed for ongoing opportunities for feedback, which enabled the SFU Research Team to effectively understand the community interests and priorities on the North Shore. The team environment was uplifting and supportive, which fostered positive collaborations and the co-creation of resources, and in turn, contributed to the positive outcomes of the InterGenNS Project.

As this project was strongly community-driven, it allowed for unique possibilities of community engagement, which in turn contributed to depth and breadth in the research. 

It’s worth noting that this community engaged project focusing on intergenerational programs was led by an intergenerational team, as it included ages from 22 through 70+, which demonstrates a unique aspect. The main goal of the project was to better understand the current state of intergenerational initiatives on the North Shore. Beyond this goal, the InterGenNS Project itself generated community connectivity bringing together generations, ideas, and diverse organizations. In addition, this project facilitated community capacity and networking by bringing much needed attention, awareness, and action to intergenerational initiatives in British Columbia.

The InterGenNS Project facilitated the development of co-created tangible resources and tools for the community. We wanted to provide support for organizations that are interested in creating, maintaining, expanding, funding, and evaluating intergenerational initiatives.


Organic and purposeful initiatives

The findings of the project confirmed the need for these resources, as intergenerational initiatives were among the most vulnerable during COVID-19. Many intergenerational initiatives were shut down or reduced in capacity. One key take-away from this project conducted during COVID-19 is that creating opportunities to bring together generations may be exactly what we need as a society to offset the social isolation and lack of meaningful civic engagement that younger and older people experience today more than ever before. In fact, one of the study participants highlighted the importance of intergenerational initiatives as they “provide the opportunity to form connections … and create a discussion between generations to close a gap that exists between them”. However, this cannot be achieved without creating resilient and robust intergenerational opportunities in the community.

The project involved conducting seven semi-structured interviews with organizations on the North Shore that offer intergenerational initiatives. The participants in the semi-structured interviews represented the following groups:

  1. North Shore Community Resources Society;
  2. Parkgate Community Services Society;
  3. Hollyburn Family Services;
  4. Capilano University;
  5. North Shore Neighbourhood House;
  6. North Shore Public Libraries; and
  7. Squamish Nation.

It is important to mention that the North Shore demonstrates excellent diversity in their intergenerational programming, inclusion of vulnerable population groups (individuals in long-term care, those with dementia, oldest-old adults, First Nation communities, and low socioeconomic status), and identifies a variety of locations for intergenerational initiatives to take place (indoors, outdoors, virtually).

We identified that intergenerational initiatives were “organic” or “purposeful” in nature, meaning they were naturally occurring or planned without formal intention. The study participants explained that if intergenerational connections are organic, it is imperative that they are recognized, supported, and encouraged. On the other hand, purposeful intergenerational programming provides a unique vehicle to create an age-friendly intergenerational community that can stimulate other community-based initiatives.

Males, new residents, newcomers, and those with poor mobility are underrepresented in current intergenerational initiatives. There needs to be support for the organizations on the North Shore to address these underrepresented groups, encourage member-driven intergenerational initiatives, and support the use of technology to bring generations together.

The study participants also highlighted the importance of partnership and networking, as it increases awareness of the value of intergenerational initiatives, especially during a global pandemic that resulted in increased levels of social isolation than ever before.


Building community foundations

One of our dedicated community partners, CFUW (Canadian Federation of University Women) in North Vancouver stated, “this project points to a positive future for all. We are looking forward to seeing this project presented nationally in September to eager and large Cross -Canada audience who had but a taste of good work in May 2021.”

The representative from North Shore Community Resources noted that the InterGenNS Project “resulted in an increased understanding of current intergenerational opportunities in this region and their impact.”

The involvement between British Columbia Council for Families (BCCF) and the InterGenNS Project “has offered valuable insights into the potential of enhanced community partnerships, centralization and coordination of information on intergenerational programs, events and spaces as well as unique training opportunities for intergenerational service providers which BCCF could develop”.

The Representative of the InterGenNS Steering Committee shares that “our progress is exciting, and I look forward to what we might achieve in establishing a community wide resource hub, specific to intergenerational initiatives, for the benefit of all on the North Shore.”

This project has created a strong foundation for future work in intergenerational initiatives in the North Shore and is currently in its second phase to achieve goals to support such initiatives in more concrete ways. The InterGenNS Project plans to continue the partnership between academia and community and develop an inventory of initiatives in the North Shore, international best practices, develop a Community Resource Hub, and pilot a Facilitator person to support and develop intergenerational connections in the North Shore. We are all eagerly looking forward to the continuation of this project!


Check out this amazing podcast from Below the Radar.

Learn more about the InterGenNS Project

Celebrating Intergenerational Day with the InterGenNS Project, SFU Gerontology News

Celebrating Intergeneraltional Day, North Shore Community Resources

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