December 3, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the mother of six and grandmother of four, Pauline Smith knows a little something about relating
to kids.

She uses these skills as a participant in the North Omaha Intergenerational Human Service Campus (NOIHSC)—where senior citizens spend time speaking with, and giving sage advice to, a younger generation of at-risk youth, many the age of their grandchildren.

“With this, children get out a lot of love, and I don’t believe they want to be what they’ve become,” Smith says. “I like being able to pass on what I know—my life experiences, good and bad—onto younger people. It’s my way of helping out the next generation.”

It’s pretty obvious she knows of what she speaks—and it’s working.

Ask Derek and Peter, two young men who struggle with anger issues and gang affiliation as part of Heartland Family Service’s Youth Links program. Youth Links is an innovative program for kids ages 10-18 who have been found to be delinquent or who are status offenders. It’s considered a “triage” center in that it provides assessments and short-term services which help youth re-enter or remain in the community safely.

Seniors who have moved into the 44 new, energy-efficient housing units at the developing NOIHSC as well as from the neighboring community work each day with the young people involved with Youth Links, along with children and families in the neighborhood.

The intergenerational component offers powerful benefits including culture exchange, enhanced social skills, improved academic performance, decreased social isolation among the elderly, increased feelings of stability, stimulated learning, increased emotional support, and improved health.

Overall, NOIHSC has increased the well-being of many north Omaha seniors and children who need its services.

It’s definitely reciprocal.

“I’ve gained a lot of maturity through my time with the older people; they like to talk to you and give you advice about how to be successful by staying away from gangs and other bad things,” says 17-year-old Peter. “It’s been great keeping on the positive track (through Youth Links) and learning how to be and keep safe.”

This project, led by Holy Name Housing Corp. and Heartland Family Service, was created to stimulate and complement commercial growth in north Omaha while focusing on services tailored to the lives and needs of neighborhood residents.

Combining—or mixing—the generations gives the older generation the opportunity to impart their life experiences and lessons learned to the youth through conversation and advice, which in turn gives the younger generation outlets for some of the anger and other issues that landed them at Youth Links.

According to senior center director Karen Sides, this project has been a long time coming, and once the funds were raised to make it happen earlier this year, it quickly became a reality that’s changing lives for the better.

“Our seniors don’t judge the children in our program; to them, it’s an even playing field,” Sides says. “Intergenerational is kind of a buzzword with society, but it’s really making a difference. They spend time together, building trust and revealing things about each other that lead to making connections.”

Visit heartlandfamilyservice.org to learn more.

GenerationalMixer

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