A Bridge That We All Need To Cross Over
By Andrea Josephine Fonte Weaver
My name is Andrea Josephine Fonte Weaver; let me explain what that means to me: The “Andrea” is for my paternal grandfather (“Nonno” to me), and “Josephine” I chose as a Confirmation name in honor of my Grandpa Joe. Grandpa often referred to me as a “rabble-rouser,” which is an old term for someone who rallies the people to effect change and address a need. Even as a young child, I was questioning the systems, getting the other kids together. And as a teen, I tried to bring about change by planning and doing. I was a connector and a leader – and Grandpa knew it.
Grandpa and I, plus about a dozen other relatives, ate dinner together every Sunday. At college, I learned that not everyone had big Sunday dinners – and not everyone lived near their grandparents. Midway through college, I learned about the field of intergenerational engagement and realized that I could make a living bringing people together and spending time with both children and elders.
While still a college student, I piloted what is now called the “Bridges Program,” which unites youth in Pre-K through college with older adults. The Bridges Program was designed to engage generations as they explore aging as a lifelong journey through shared experiences and collaborative learning. The program is usually facilitated by teachers with approximately eight older adult volunteers working in pairs with small groups of students. The theme-based lessons include life-review/interview questions and fun group activities that support learning standards. Bridges is now being used coast-to-coast.
After a decade working as an intergenerational specialist in Massachusetts and a decade focusing on my growing family, I felt called to create Bridges Together Inc. As I thought about our approach, I went back to a proverb that Grandpa taught me: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” I wanted to not just unite generations – I wanted to teach others how to unite generations so they could do it for a lifetime.
Today, Bridges Together is a national leader helping people in families, schools, and organizations to engage with people in different generations. Our vision is that every child and older adult will experience the richness of intergenerational relationships and interdependence. Our mission is to empower leaders to connect generations thereby transforming lives for today and tomorrow. We do this by raising awareness and advocating for intergenerational engagement. We also educate, provide resources for, and connect people who are committed to uniting generations.
The core values of Bridges Together are influenced by my experience with my grandparents: https://www.bridgestogether.org/intergenerational inclusiveness, recognizing people’s giftedness, joy and kindness, gratitude, lifelong learning, and collaborative efforts.
I have listened to the grandparents who want to connect and do more with their grandchildren, but who are stymied by technology and full schedules. We are trying to help. Bridges Together now offer membership specifically for grandparents and families. You can join us for a nominal fee. Each month, you will receive a “springboard” of discussion questions and activities that can be used with your own grand-families. As a member, you are invited to join a monthly webinar and ask specific questions. In addition, you will have access to a library of related articles.
Grandpa Joe was right: I am a rabble-rouser and proud of it! I am proud to provide tools to end age-segregation in our communities. I am proud to be creating teams of people committed to bridging the generation gap. While I’m sad that Grandpa Joe and my other grandparents are no longer with us to enjoy the fruits of my work, I know that they are with me in spirit, making this journey a bit easier and celebrating with each new intergenerational connection.
The following drawings and descriptions clearly illustrate the dramatic difference in perceptions that children can have of older people before and after they participate in the Bridges Together Program.