Jean Barker Program to Foster Intergenerational Connections

The Jean Barker Intergenerational Connections Program, which was established to facilitate relationships between College students and elderly members of the community, will soon begin pairing interested students with members of the Welcome Nursing Home, the John Frederick Oberlin Society and Kendal at Oberlin, a local retirement community.

Recent graduates Alex Tutant, OC ’12, and Inyang Udo, OC ’12, created the Jean Barker Intergenerational Connections Program to address issues of ageism after being inspired by the Social Justice Institute workshop. The program was named after Jean Barker, OC ’57, an avid supporter of the Oberlin College Dialogue Center, who worked with Tutant and Udo to set up the project. Barker has been supportive since the program’s inception last Spring, during the 10th anniversary of the OCDC.

The goal of the program is to provide residents of Kendal and Welcome a chance to share their life experiences with a younger generation and address misconceptions about the elderly.

Currently over 40 students have submitted online interest surveys to the Ombuds Office. Students are encouraged to form groups of volunteers, but may also participate in the program individually. Information from these surveys will be analyzed and matched with a local senior who has similar interests. Those working on the program hope that participants will explore generational differences and draw connections between the lives of students and residents.

“It can be intimidating for students to talk to people of older ages,” said College junior and program coordinator Connor Jerzak. “Both the students and the elderly in this community face a sort of generational isolation. This program bridges the gap between the groups and opens the door for friendship and mutual benefits.”

Throughout the semester, students and seniors will participate in structured activities such as crafts and picnics. Students are encouraged to invite the seniors with whom they are matched to dinner, concerts and to record the stories they tell. The program encourages an equal partnership in order to connect and communicate. Intergenerational program volunteers like College sophomore Margaret Byerly look forward to the opportunity to bridge the generational gap.

“There’s a sense of stability that comes with speaking with someone who’s already been through the things you’re going through,” said Byerly.

Yeworkwha Belachew, Ombudsperson and director of the OCDC, hopes that the program will give participants a better understanding of the different journeys people take in life.

“With Oberlin students, it’s all about being an agent of change,” said Belachew. “Now is the time to fundamentally change our societal mentality when it comes to the elderly.”

No students have been officially matched with a partner yet, but program coordinators expect the first student visits to be made in late November.