Strengthening Intergenerational Bonds in Immigrant and Refugee Communities

This report presents four case studies that highlight recruitment strategies, key intergenerational activities, challenges, and outcomes for fostering intergenerational connections in immigrant and refugee communities. The report concludes with a summary of promising practices, benefits, and recommendations for practitioners.

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Recent research suggests that there is a growing schism between generations in many immigrant and refugee families. Language barriers and conflicting demands on each generation make it challenging to maintain meaningful intergenerational relationships. Many elders feel a sense of disappointment that the level of cross-generational interaction within their families is superficial and yearn for opportunities to transmit their culture and experiences to younger generations. New strategies for helping immigrant and refugee elders maintain a sense of purpose and share their cultural knowledge are critical. Engaging elders in intergenerational activities outside their family units is one way to address this generational divide.

With support from MetLife Foundation, the Intergenerational Center at Temple University worked with four ethnic community-based organizations to implement an initiative entitled Strengthening Intergenerational Bonds in Immigrant and Refugee Communities.

The overall goals of the initiative were to: 1) promote healthy aging in refugee and immigrant communities by developing programming designed to build meaningful relationships among non-familial youth and older adults; and 2) to increase the capacity of ethnic-based community organizations to strengthen intergenerational connectedness. Seed grants were provided to four ethnic-based community organizations: the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA. (Cambodian), BPSOS-Delaware Valley, Camden, NJ. (Vietnamese), Confederation of Somali Communities in Minnesota, MN. (East African) and El Centro de Acción Social, Pasadena, CA. (Mexican), to implement culturally appropriate intergenerational programming. Each site brought together young people and elders from
their community to engage in a series of activities to promote mutual trust and learning. Sharing stories of resiliency – the ability to overcome adversity – was a key strategy used by all sites to promote understanding and connection across ages. Technical assistance was provided to pilot sites by staff from Project SHINE, the Intergenerational Center’s national initiative that mobilizes college students to help immigrant and refugee elders prepare for citizenship, acquire health literacy skills, and engage in meaningful civic roles.