Bringing Together Young and Old to Ease Isolation of Rural Life

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From NPR: “Social isolation is increasingly recognized as a public health issue. Studies show that isolation and loneliness put 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, such as 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 youths with almost 2,500 older adults annually.

The initiative is ‘truly unique,’ says Carter Florence, senior director of strategy at Meals on Wheels America, who grew up in rural Appalachia, in Hazard, Ky., and has spent much of her career working in rural areas. Many places around the country, she says, ‘are trying to support community connections and grow the close-knitedness of their communities,’ she says. But most of these efforts are small-scale, she adds.

‘Having such a big program covering such a wide area, that is really intentionally focused on the intergenerational connectedness, is unique,’ agrees Henning-Smith.”

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