By Hansol Hwang
Residents of Sierra Madre, Dr. Lisa Manuelian and her daughter Kareen, are giving the youth and the elderly in their city, a moment to connect.
Since May, the mother-daughter duo has been working together in the community to bridge the generational gap between the elderly and the youth, ranging from ages five to 18, while at the same time allowing both age groups to benefit from each other in a positive way through a program they created called, “Moment2Connect,” Manuelian said.
“The lessons learned with the elderly [are] hard to get anywhere else. We want to create a platform for these children to come and practice being empathic, compassionate, [and] kind and listening – truly listening,” Manuelian said. “Our program is an opportunity for children to have a beautiful moment to connect with someone special, hence the name, Moment2Connect. It’s actually very magical.”
Manuelian said the program is a platform for kids to practice being empathic, accepting, kind and compassionate citizens; hoping that these skills will generalize outside of the program to school and home.
According to the Stanford Center of Longevity, when older adults contribute to the well-being of youth, it cultivates a sense of purpose and the benefit extends both ways.
The program meets every other Saturday at The Kensington Assisted Living Facility, an assisted living and memory care residence in Sierra Madre. During a program’s session, kids are either grouped or partnered with a resident of the Kensington center. Then they begin with the connection activity. This activity comes in various forms such as discussing hobbies, cultural backgrounds, family dynamics, shared interests and discovering what they have in common. After that they choose either an activity or game to play. Some of these include reading to one another, playing memory games, visual-motor enhancing games, card games and seasonal crafts, Kareen said.
Even though a session is only an hour, Manuelian and her daughter said, “No one ever wants to leave.” Most of the kids do not want to leave at the end of the hour, so they are planning on extending the time to an hour and a half.
Kareen shared that one of the elderly at the Kensington said, “I am grateful for this program and grateful for you girls making me smile while teaching me games I have never played in my life.”
The idea for this program originated when Kareen first felt a moment of connection with an elderly person while volunteering at the Kensington. This was before the inception of the program. Kareen became inspired when she first listened to the story of this elderly person at the Kensington, Kareen said.
“One time an elderly resident told me her whole life story and it is amazing to hear what their life was like compared to what ours is like now,” Kareen said. “So I wanted other kids to feel that connection with the elderly too because some of them do not have grandparents or older models so it is a nice thing to do.”
Manuelian and Kareen combined their experiences in order to create this program. Manuelian brings her experience in working extensively with the older adult and geriatric population in nursing homes, applying her postdoctoral training in geriatric neuropsychology. She has also been teaching for eight years in multiple graduate-level programs.
Additionally, Kareen brings her extensive volunteer experience and the relationships she has built while previously volunteering for the Kensington facility. She has received the President’s Volunteer Award two years in a row and has volunteered over 400 hours. Furthermore, Kareen is only fourteen years old.
The program is also working to decrease the stigma the youth have in the generational gap, Manuelian said. For those not familiar with this stigma, it can be described by the phrases such as “I can’t relate to them, they don’t know anything, or they are boring.”
“They have definitely lived another life,” Manuelian said.
One of the roadblocks in front of the youth that maintain this stigma is electronics, specifically phones. “Since everyone is on their electronics now a days, they are less social. No one really goes outside anymore to play, talk and interact,” Kareen said. But this is different in Moment2Connect. A no-electronics rule was never established, but the magic of connection enabled the youth to be engaged with something other than a phone’s screen.
“They are volunteering when they are coming here, but this is a program where they are coming to learn from. They are not [just] volunteers, they are in a program where they are benefiting and learning as well,” Kareen said.
Manuelian said she noticed that both the elderly and kids love spending their time at the program because they feel heard and the elderly want to hear what the kids have to say.
“They feel heard. They feel accepted and they are feeling understood. That is the power of connection,” Manuelian said. “Being able to develop deep healthy connections and relationships is critical to living a healthy, happy and successful life.”
Since inception, they have run eight sessions and have gathered the attention of the community to where they now have a waiting list. The capacity limit exists because without it, it would exceed the ratio of kids to elderly residents, meaning there would not be enough elderly residents to be matched up with more kids. Currently, the program can only take 18 kids per session.
This is why they are planning to expand and reach out to a larger number of youths and older adults in order to create healthier communities, Kareen said. In order to fulfill that, they hope to turn the program into a non-profit, empower the youth and create leaders amongst the youth.
Manuelian is a psychotherapist, life/business coach and speaker located in the Pasadena area. Parents can RSVP by contacting her at either (323) 496-8843 or through the program’s Instagram account @moment2connect.