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Susan V. Bosak TEDx Talk – Building a 7-Generation World
What is a 7-Generation World?

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YOU 177 Elders
Legacy Project
YOU 177 Elders
Dream Bigger, Create Legacy

YOU 177 is a social innovation journey from dreams to legacy, from aspirations to action. It's about moving toward a bigger way of thinking and acting for all generations in a 7-Generation World. And elders can lead the way.

Too many elders are isolated and marginalized in our society, and too often we fail to tap into the tremendous social capital they can offer. A sense of belonging and purpose is a basic human right. With the historic global demographic shift to an older population, YOU 177 empowers elders of all ages and abilities – 1 World with 7 Billion People across 7 Generations.

Ecologists tell us that a young tree grows better when it's planted in an area with older trees. The roots of the young tree are able to follow the pathways created by older trees and implant themselves more deeply. Over time, the roots of many trees may actually graft themselves to each other, creating an intricate, interdependent foundation hidden under the ground. The whole forest becomes healthier, stronger, better. That's the power of the 7-Generation work.

More Elders Than Ever Before

Historic Demographic Shift

Worldwide, for the first time in history, and probably for the rest of human history, people 65 years and older outnumber children. By 2030, 1 in every 5 Americans (and by 2036, 1 in 4 Canadians) will be over 65 years of age.

We need effective strategies to meet the needs of an older population, including health, housing, mobility, and social supports. The World Health Organization has outlined an Age-Friendly framework. We propose age-friendly – PLUS.

An increasingly older population brings both challenges and opportunities for individuals, organizations, and communities. We believe the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. The difference and the power of YOU 177 is in the "plus," a cross-issue, big-picture timeframe: lifetimes across generations.

The demographic shift can be a doorway into a myriad of transformative opportunities for all generations and for entire communities. We can create better, stronger communities. We can strategically meet the needs of elders AND be strategic in utilizing the tremendous and transformational social capital of elders (wisdom, skills, experience) to the benefit of all.

YOU 177 meets physical needs in a broader, more empowering psychosocial context. It helps you rethink the way we divide up our society based on age, enriches the way we view and experience aging, supports health in older adulthood, celebrates lifelong learning and contribution, and brings more meaning and purpose to the experience of growing older.

The Power of Legacy

The Power of Legacy

This isn't about leaving a legacy; it's about living a legacy. 70% of older adults say they want to create a positive legacy. What if… we meaningfully connect the young and the old – particularly the far ends of the age spectrum which are often the most vulnerable, least powerful, most marginalized – in strategic action to transform their own lives and the world? The YOU in YOU 177 not only stands for the power you have as an individual to make a difference regardless of your age, but also stands for Young and Old United.

Research tells us that social isolation of elders can result in more health issues and a 50% higher mortality. When elders are vitally connected with the young, this can shift dramatically. We know frail elders and those with dementia are particularly isolated, as are their caregivers. What if we shift the way we see these elders – not as dependents but as teachers, not as being "at the end of the line" of a lifetime but as being part of the bigger circle of life?

Based on two decades of research in the social and natural sciences, YOU 177 takes a systems approach that draws on life course and aging, intergenerational relationships, health, lifelong learning, community building, systems design, economics, and environmental studies. YOU 177 integrates the important work of people like Marc Freedman, Erik Erikson, Mary Catherine Bateson, John Kotre, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Harry R. Moody, David Snowdon, Bill Thomas, The Intergenerational School, and The Intergenerational Center at Temple University.

YOU 177 is helping to give elders a real role in society. As we explore a much longer lifetime, we have to be careful not to split old age into two polarized images – the "ill-derly" versus the "healthy, wealthy, and wise." This feeds both a false pessimism and a superficial optimism. To create genuinely satisfying, realistic images of older adulthood, we have to understand its complexities. As we create new life maps, there are no prescribed role models to follow, no guideposts, no rigid rules or obvious rewards. "Aging" is much more than a problem to be solved. It's about our vision of what it means to live a life.

Nadia Bosak is ready to dream bigger – are you?

This is Nadia (the photo was taken four years ago). She's now 90 years old, and still living vibrantly with advanced dementia. She's also Legacy Project Founder Susan V. Bosak's mother, and helps inspire the evolution of the 7-Generation work.

Nadia is Susan's Time Teacher. She once told Susan that it can be hard growing older – sometimes your body won't move the way you want it to, your brain doesn't respond the way you want it to, you lose people you've known and cared about for years. And the very hardest part, according to Nadia? When people treat you "like a child – like you don't matter anymore in the world." Everyone, even older adults with physical and cognitive limitations, matters. Nadia is showing us the way. It's up – to the stars. Nadia has loved the stars since she was little because, she says, "They make me feel big." Nadia is ready to dream bigger. Are you?

We need to feel as though we are moving toward something worthwhile – not necessarily easy, not straightforward, but worthwhile. We need meaning and hope, both individually and as a society.

Discover Your Pathway

YOU 177 Elder Pathway

YOU 177 is a journey from dreams to legacy – whether you're an active elder, young at heart, or living with some physical or cognitive limitations. We invite retirement communities, assisted living centers, care homes, elder-serving organizations, older adult groups and entire communities to get involved.

We help connect young and old in different ways. The award-winning book Dream is a tool that inspires all ages and provides the first stepping stones for your YOU 177 journey. Check out intergenerational activity and event ideas, and the annual Listen to a Life Contest. They can help you start to build authentic community intergenerational connections.

The precise pathway and pace of the journey is different for different people and organizations. We work closely with you to evolve your path.

We offer support in building strategic and meaningful intergenerational connections. In the words of Dr. Nancy Henkin, Founder and former Executive Director of Temple University's Intergenerational Center in Philadelphia, "Success means more than plopping 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds together in a room. You can't throw people into a setting and expect magic to happen. The programs can't just be older people teaching kids how to read, or kids teaching older people technology. That is one level and that's good. But we need to go deeper and develop programs that in the long run help kids and older adults understand the needs and the strengths of the other person."


Our whole-community 7-Generation perspective leverages schools as intergenerational community innovation hubs (assisted living and care facilities can also host school classrooms or develop a shared site).

For schools, we take an Elders-in-Residence approach. The 7-Generation work draws on an Indigenous concept. In Indigenous cultures, elders are valued; they are an integral part of the community. So our goal is to make elders an integral part of the school community. This is effective from preschool to university levels. For example, many universities now have Elders-in-Residence. While they support Indigenous student learning, they are also available to all students as a "grandparent." Students feel a greater sense of community and belonging. In addition, Elders-in-Residence offer advice to the university itself.

An elder doesn’t have to be a certain age, "although there is the assumption that we accumulate wisdom as we grow older, but no guarantee on that one," jokes Joanne Dallaire, who became an elder at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.

In the context of YOU 177, Elders-in-Residence become part of an elementary or high school community. Older adults of all abilities may participate in classes with students, curl up on a couch reading with children in a "grandma room," or are partners in the computer lab. The idea is to go beyond a "program" and encourage real, caring relationships.

Elders and students may ultimately also work on legacy projects together. Legacy projects aren't "projects" in the ordinary sense. Legacy projects are the building blocks of a new 7-Generation World, calling on intergenerational intellect, empathy, and creativity.

We work closely with Dr. Peter Whitehouse, Co-Founder of The Intergenerational School (TIS) in Cleveland, OH. TIS received the 2014 Eisner Prize. At TIS, elders (even those with cognitive or physical limitations) are woven into the fabric of the school day such that young and old learn from and with each other across the curriculum. The public charter school is connected by a walkway to an older adult housing complex. Dr. Whitehouse says, "For older adults, the results are significant as they become a vital part of our school community. There are health benefits of less depression, more purpose and meaning, and elders know they can count on staff and students for help and support when they need it. Once elders begin as mentors at the school, they attend the school weekly and stay with us for years, often even staying in touch with students once they graduate."

Elders-in-Residence creates a meaningful new role in communities for older adults. It's founded on a simple premise: every child needs an elder, and every elder can help a child. Together, young and old can change their whole community for the better.

Dream Bigger, Create Legacy. Join us. For more information, contact the Legacy Project at 1-800-772-7765 or e-mail us. For updates on YOU 177, follow the Legacy Project on Twitter and sign up for our e-newsletter.

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