Photo depicting a group of youth and elders writing letters and stories together.

Legacy Letters Fights Isolation With Intergenerational Connections

by Amanda Ong

Legacy Letters is a friendship program in which people from different generations participate in activities that share their life stories. On Jan. 9, Legacy Letters will host a community-building reunion at SouthEast Seattle Senior Center to connect elders and youth. This event will feature new participants in their next series of sessions, which will take place weekly over the following five weeks, and introduce them in turn to previous Legacy Letters participants.

“Legacy Letters is a program of The AgePRIDE-Healthy Generations Center, an arm of the Goldsen Institute at the University of Washington,” Laura Culberg, program manager at AgePRIDE, told the South Seattle Emerald. “The goal of AgePRIDE-Healthy Generations is to use information gleaned from research and intervention studies and translate it into practice. Legacy Letters evolved in part from our research showing that older adults often suffer from higher rates of isolation and loneliness. Legacy Letters strives to build connections and support to mitigate loneliness and isolation.”

“Older adults tend to have high rates of loneliness,” Aislinn Conroy, Legacy Letters’ program coordinator, said in an interview with the Emerald. “And young people in particular have suffered during the pandemic with social isolation. So the idea is to bring together these groups and to try and foster relationships between them to specifically encourage ‘generativity,’ which is this kind of jargony term that refers to the idea that people might leave these interactions with a sense of having contributed something, whether wisdom or energy, to a different generation.”

These workshop sessions include group discussions, paired interviews, and improvisation games. Participants incorporate their reflections from these activities into a Legacy Letter, which each person may present to the group on the final date of the program. The reunion event will invite members of their six previous cohorts to meet the new participants for dinner and activities.

“All high school participants earn community service hours for their participation, and every program session offers a catered meal that people either eat there, [or] they take home, and the students receive community service hours for participating,” Conroy said. “We’re just trying to remove barriers for people who might not otherwise be able to participate because they’re full-time working, or otherwise from a wealth-excluded community.”

The caterer for the program is Dorothy’s Kitchen, a Black-owned small business whose chef also works with Rainier Beach High School, one of a few high schools that the program has worked with, though Legacy Letters hopes to continue outreach. Each series of sessions has paired about five elders and five students together to reflect, connect, and hopefully grow together.

“Older adults tend to be seen as invisible, and then younger adults also suffer from ageism when their intelligence and wisdom is maybe discounted,” Conroy said. “And so we just want to offer a space where they can exchange understandings and lived experiences. They’re usually really humbling and rich conversations, ranging from conversations about pronouns and trans liberation to what it was like to grow up before the internet.”

“Older adults tend to be seen as invisible, and then younger adults also suffer from ageism when their intelligence and wisdom is maybe discounted,” Aislinn Conroy, Legacy Letters’ program coordinator, said. “We just want to offer a space where they can exchange understandings and lived experiences.” Pictured: a Legacy Letters’ event. (Photo courtesy of Legacy Letters.)

While elders living alone or in assisted living can face isolation, especially during the pandemic when family visits are fewer, Legacy Letters can provide a truly enriching experience. The SouthEast Seattle Senior Center is also the most diverse senior center in Seattle, and BIPOC seniors often face the harshest effects of ageism. At the same time, the Legacy Letters program provides benefits to the younger participants who participate in the program, many of whom have learned to appreciate the life experiences of elders. 

“The youth that I’ve noticed who get the most out of it tend to be young people who maybe have had hard life experiences, like dealing with trauma, or immigration, or family struggles,” Conroy said. “And I think in the program, they can find almost a grandparent relationship with these older adults that really care about them and are inspired by their energy. And our hope is that the program will expand so that more people can be a part of it.”

To join the Legacy Letters program or simply attend the Legacy Community Reunion, register online. The program will be held on Jan. 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the SouthEast Seattle Senior Center Atrium at 4655 S Holly St.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: Legacy Letters brings together elders and youth in sharing stories from their own lives. (Photo courtesy of Legacy Letters.)

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