Attitude studies reveal that there is a tendency for older persons to see youth as somewhat raucous and irresponsible, and in turn, for youth to see the elderly as cranky and complaining.
But a different picture of each other comes to those who participate in the several intergenerational programs conducted by the University of Maryland with co-sponsorship or cooperation from the area agencies on aging.
One of these programs is known by the acronym YESS for Youth Employment Services for Seniors. Another is the Retired Volunteer Service Corps program, and a third is the Adult's Health and Development Program.
The YESS program was initiated under Vincent Goodsell's administration of the Prince George's Division of Services and Programs for the Aging. This program recruits college age men and women who work - at the minimum wage - for elderly persons who need help in basic home maintenance.
University coordination for this program is provided by Paul Raia from his office in the Center on Aging. County Department of Aging coordination is provided by Leo Forami who serves as a retired volunteer. He would be happy to receive calls from young people because, he said, "there is still much unmet need."
The young people do yard work, touch-up painting, minor carpentry and other chores. For these young people, there are rewards beyond the minimum wage payment. Often, real friendships develop. One young woman explained that the elderly she served "are all friendly and appreciate the help they get even though they seem sad about not being able to do the work themselves."
As often as not, there is friendly conversation over a cup of tea or a piece of home-made pie. Topics of conversation include student life, changes in the community, or changes in societal values. Many of the elderly who call in are alone and lonely, seeking not only help but contact with the outside world.
One young man told of working for an elderly man who moved about with a walker. There was work to do, but there also was as much talking as working. For the time being his visits are scheduled on a regular basis.
Raia said he feels that the program has the virtue of serving several needs at once.
"Students earn some money they need, the elderly get help they need, and both get the benefit of important learnings through intergenerational contact," Raia said.
The Retired Volunteer Service Corps program reverses roles with the elderly serving youth. This program, just getting underway, is directed by Renee Lewis of the University's Office of Undergraduate Studies. It is designed to provide internship guidance and other support services. A retired certified public accountant, for example, can provide valuable counsel for a young person considering accounting as a career. Or, a high-risk student may gain new motivation through informal counseling and support from a knowledgeable volunteer.
The elderly who serve in this program attend a one-day orientation workshop followed by briefings in the departmental or service offices to which they become attached. Qualifications for participation are not restrictive. Only retirement status and a willingness to share practical experience and expertise are required.
The university plans to have a group of 25 to 30 volunteers this semester but expects eventually to have a program involving hundreds of retired volunteers. To this end, Lewis welcomes calls from interested persons. The number to call is 454-3040. The committment expected is at least one semester of service, three hours per week. Out-of-pocket expenses can be reimbursed.
Lewis is convinced that there is a wealth of talent and experience among the retired in the community that should not go to waste. She also finds "wonderful enthusiasm among the elderly for participating in the program." Important concomitant outcomes Lewis expects are a sense of personal worth for the elderly, stimulation for continued growth for the volunteer and a better appreciation for each other by both the young and the old.
The Adult's Health and Development Program has for several years, employed the concept of intergenarational involvement. This program, directed by Dr. Dan Leviton, professor of health education, brings together every Saturday morning elderly persons and trained student volunters who help the elderly achieve improved physical capability and health.