Therapist Toni Heineman was just a couple years shy of her 50th birthday when she decided to gather a group of experienced mental health professionals to figure out how to successfully match vulnerable foster children to licensed therapists who would counsel them, individually, pro-bono, and for as many months or years as needed.
The answer they came up with was to maximize intergenerational collaboration by engaging both older, experienced therapists and those just a couple of years out of graduate school. Today, A Home Within operates in 22 states, has 50 chapters across the United States, and helps thousands of foster children.
Volunteer therapists who sign up have access to consultation groups led by sought-after senior clinicians. Those who volunteer to direct a chapter – often young, eager professionals – dedicate four hours a week to the organization. In exchange, they are coached by experts in the field and provided professional development through a three-year fellowship.
In this way, young upstarts build their skills and networks. Coaches get the satisfaction of being mentors and strengthening the field. Foster children get stable, high-quality care.
On another front, Elizabeth Isele, a serial social entrepreneur long focused on empowering older adults, is launching a college course where old and young alike prepare together to start businesses or social ventures. Isele envisions a student in her twenties mentoring a classmate in her fifties on social media marketing. In turn, the elder student could share tips about crafting an effective pitch gleaned from past work experience.
Isele says generations working together in new ways will spur innovation and creativity. What’s more, the course intentionally aims to expand the economic pie for people across the lifespan.
In another example, Mark Levin, a playwright, and Bryn Thorsson, a director at the New York Theatre Workshop, offer an introductory 10-week theatre course for people over 60 and an equal number of high school students. In intergenerational pairs, participants conduct one-on-one interviews and write plays about each other. Budding playwrights in both age groups produce art that is performed by professional actors while building relationships not easily fostered elsewhere.