Social isolation is increasingly recognized as a public health issue. Studies show that isolation and loneliness puts people at a higher risk of long term physical and mental health problems, including premature mortality. And Henning-Smith’s preliminary research suggests that in rural areas, isolation can reduce people’s ability to meet daily needs, like access to health care and food.
A group in northeastern Minnesota is tackling this problem in a novel way: They’re trying to reconnect a fragmented social fabric by bringing together generations to support each other — kids and the elderly.
McGregor is one of 18 rural communities running the program, called AGE to age. It connects more than 4,000 youth with almost 2,500 older adults annually.
The initiative is not just geared to help the elderly — the support runs both ways. It also helps children and young people in these communities feel more supported, giving them work experience and mentors. Children and seniors work on projects together — the kind of activity varies from community to community, and can range anywhere from participating in a reading club, to building and maintaining a community garden, to helping local food pantries, to working on art projects. Along the way, they develop meaningful relationships that can last beyond the program.
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