At a senior apartment complex in Redondo Beach, the multipurpose room is filled with cheers as a resident wins a board game. But his table isn’t just filled with fellow residents—local youth with special needs are playing and cheering alongside them.
The Friendship Foundation provides programs for children, teens and young adults with developmental disabilities in the South Bay communities of Los Angeles to help them develop social and independent living skills. Recently, they have made a concerted effort to engage seniors as companions for the youth they serve.
“Children with special needs have a lot of time and they’re looking for love. The senior population has a lot of time, and they’re looking for people to love,” said Yossi Mintz, Executive Director at the Friendship Foundation. “That relationship clicks really well, and we just needed the inspiration from the Eisner Foundation to open up that horizon.”
To that end, the Friendship Foundation started the Bridges Program, programming a twice-monthly game night at the Heritage Pointe senior apartment complex. A dedicated group of residents and youth turn out to play board and card games, delighted to see each other.
“I look forward to this every month,” said Greg, a resident of Heritage Point who has attended the Bridges Program with his wife since they moved in a year ago. “I like the innocence, the love you get from younger people. I’m kinda a kid myself, at heart. I never miss it.”
Marcus, 18 years old, has participated in many Friendship Foundation programs and is a regular at Greg’s game table. “I come here to see all my friends. It’s a party!” he said with a smile.
While this intergenerational program is giving the youth opportunities to develop social skills in a fun, supportive environment, the residents are benefiting as well.
“A lot of the seniors don’t have families that live in the area, and some of these kids think of them as their grandparents. Their parents enroll them in the program because they don’t have that grandparent figure and they fill that gap,” said Elyse Ares, the Friendship Foundation Program Director.
Interacting with older adults is also an important benefit to the youth. “The types of conversations they have are just different,” she said. “I’ve noticed that our teen volunteers tend to talk about what’s in entertainment, what’s in media, what’s in school, but with our senior volunteers they talk about family values, they talk about their parents, how their weekend was, and you can just tell their dynamic is a little different. The in-depth conversation is there.”
Now that the Bridges Program is in its second year, Friendship Foundation staff are examining how they can expand the program to other sites and activities. In addition to more game nights, they hope to engage the youth and seniors in gardening, cooking and service projects. But meanwhile, this group will keep coming every other week to connect over their favorite games.
“We’ve developed some real bonds,” Greg said. “I love these guys.”Back to Eisner Journal Directory