The MIT AgeLab awards annual scholarships to high school students who lead or develop intergenerational programs — initiatives designed to bring together younger and older people — in their communities. On Sept. 29, five $5,000 OMEGA scholarships were given to high school students across the United States, with support from AARP Massachusetts. An additional $1,000 was awarded to each winning intergenerational program to help sustain and grow the students’ efforts.
OMEGA, which stands for Opportunities for Multigenerational Exchange, Growth, and Action, develops programming and offers scholarships to facilitate intergenerational connections between younger people and older adults in their communities.
The scholarships were awarded at a virtual ceremony hosted by the MIT AgeLab, with representatives from the AgeLab and AARP in attendance, along with the scholarship winners, their parents, program participants, and community partners.
“OMEGA is a reminder to all of us that there are new generations committed to intergenerational solutions, not only for the challenges of aging, but also for unlocking the opportunities of living longer,” says Michael E. Festa, state director of AARP Massachusetts.
Intergenerational programs help to strengthen social ties within communities and facilitate knowledge transfer between younger and older adults. Two of the winning programs for 2023, a book club focused on discussing feminist literature and a project uncovering the history of a historically Black neighborhood, focus on bringing together and centering the voices of historically marginalized communities.
The five scholarship winners and their winning programs are:
Hannah Paseltiner, currently a first-year student at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and a 2023 graduate of Clarkstown High School in New City, New York. Paseltiner founded the Elderly Allies Club, which works to build relationships between younger adults and communities of older people, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, in New City. The program partners with the Rockland County Village Community, a social and mutual support community for older adults. Members of the club make personal deliveries on behalf of nursing home residents, craft décor for assisted living communities, and organize “speed-dating” and storytelling events between younger and older adults.
Sarah Adams, currently a senior at East High School in Rochester, New York. Adams is a Youth History Ambassador for Clarissa Uprooted, a collaboration between the Center for Teen Empowerment and the Clarissa Street Reunion Committee. The project aims to preserve and transmit knowledge about the history of the Clarissa Street “village” in Rochester, New York, a historically Black neighborhood that was gutted by urban renewal policies in the 1950s and ’60s. Relying on the historical memory of older adults in the community, the initiative produced a documentary titled Clarissa Uprooted, and is developing a school curriculum to teach the history of the neighborhood to students in Monroe County.
India Ratha, currently a first-year student at Carleton College in Minnesota, and a 2023 graduate of Tech High School in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Ratha joined and later became an organizer of an initiative called Sounds of Sunday, which brings high school musicians into nursing homes for musical performances and intergenerational conversations. Sounds of Sunday has partnered with the Central Minnesota Council on Aging, as well as the Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness for Central Minnesota.
Lorenzo Martinelli, currently a first-year student at the University of Chicago, and a 2023 graduate of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Martinelli is a co-founder of a program called Tandem, based in Louisville. Founded during the Covid-19 pandemic, when social isolation was a major challenge for people of all ages, Tandem facilitates ongoing friendships between older adults and high school students through 30-minute phone conversations. Over two-and-a-half years, the program has facilitated over 900 calls and 450 hours of deep conversation between pairs of older and younger adults.
Vienna Rivard, currently a first-year student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a 2023 graduate of Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts. Rivard founded an intergenerational feminist book club in her community in Hopkinton, connecting students with members of the Hopkinton’s Women’s Club. The group gathers students and older adults to engage in discussion about their readings, attend field trips to local historical museums, and share their past and present experiences as women. The group originally met over Zoom, before moving to community settings including the outdoors and local libraries.
The AgeLab’s OMEGA program works in a variety of ways with students to develop their intergenerational programs. The MIT AgeLab was created in 1999 within the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics to invent new ideas and creatively translate technologies into practical solutions that improve people's health and enable them to “do things” throughout their lifespan. Equal to the need for ideas and new technologies for older adults is the belief that innovations in how products are designed, services are delivered, or policies are implemented are of critical importance to our quality of life tomorrow.