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A bold new experiment in intergenerational living comes to us from the Netherlands. Since 2012, several cities in that country have hosted a Humanitas Residential and Care Center, mixed communities of pensioners and graduate students that help break down barriers between old and young. 

As Tiffany Jansen reported for CityLab back in 2015, “In exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work per month, students are able to stay in vacant rooms [in Humanitas homes] free of charge.” One might think that under such circumstances, cynical millennials would merely clock in for their required shifts—maybe play some bingo, watch a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote—and then go hit the pub.

But quite to the contrary, residents at these group homes seem to form durable, genuine relationships with the elderly members. Jansen notes how Jurriën Mentink, a student in Deventer, regularly does some shopping for his neighbor, a nonagenarian, as well as help her use her email and Skype. When the elderly resident once attacked a nurse, Mentink was the only one in the community who could calm her down. In the same community, 27-years-old Patrick calls 89-year-old Harry one of his best friends; they cook meals for each other, discuss life, and flirt with the ladies. 

“At first I thought I’m just gonna help out a bit, but you find out that these relationships are deeper than you expect,” Patrick told AJ+ recently. Similar projects exist all over, like the Judson home in Cleveland.

Nonprofits are increasingly recognizing the value of intergenerational connectivity, which creates important social capital and lasting relationships that improve quality of life. In Hungary, a group called Civic Enterprises connects retirees and struggling elementary school students for personalized tutoring. Such programs serve several purposes at once: they create utility for older participants, who often struggle with feelings of uselessness and isolation; they expose the younger generation to the talents and personality of their elders; and they relieve overburdened systems (whether the student-housing market in Amsterdam or the primary school system in Budapest) struggling to overcome resource scarcity. 

Connecting the old and the young is not just good for those involved—it’s one way a humane society can employ its citizens to the greatest good. 

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