Intergenerational Volunteering

Intergenerational Volunteering

“Intergenerational practice aims to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities. Intergenerational practice is inclusive, building on the positive resources that the young and old have to offer each other and those around them.” - A Guide to Intergenerational Practice, Beth Johnson Foundation, 2011

In photo of different sized hands overlapping to signify different generations promoting and supporting volunteerism, Volunteer Canada aims to enhance the quality and diversity of volunteer experiences and thus contribute to creating strong and connected communities across the country. As we know, volunteering creates links between and amongst people, their communities, and the causes they care about. It also often connects them with meaning and change, both in themselves and the world around them.

Nowhere is connection more evident than in Intergenerational Volunteering. Bringing members of different generations together fosters relationships between individuals and, at the same time, can address social issues like loneliness and social isolation, ageism and other stereotyping, cultural identity gaps, poor educational outcomes, digital divides, cognitive decline in older adults, and the list goes on.

Types of programs

There are many different types of intergenerational programs. They vary from volunteer grandparents to physical spaces shared between pre-schools and seniors’ residences, to cultural and intercultural programs. What all have in common is that they are purposefully designed based on both research and experience and all are focused on learning and relationship-building.

Activities vary with the types of organizations and the people involved and participants often have a say in their choice. Here is a small sampling: story telling, scrapbooking, plastic arts, book clubs, technical training and tutoring, research, walking, gardening and singing.

Keys to success

While any intergenerational activity can be pleasurable, there are certain elements that make for programs that are successful for their participants and have benefits repercussions for their communities:

  • Clear goals/objectives for each activity and for the overall program
  • On-going or regular review/evaluation
    • continue what is successful
    • improve or change what is not working 
  • Preparation and continued support offered to all parties involved
    • education about the generations, pertinent knowledge and training on skills involved
    • needs and ideas of all parties involved are heard and included in design
  • Programs sufficiently long (several months) to allow relationship-building as well as learning and sharing of stories, skills or experience
  • A facilitating group or individual for coordinating activities and ensuring evaluation takes place

As this list implies, short term or one-time activities do not achieve the same level of impact, although they can be enjoyable and possibly lead to more developed programs. 

Volunteer Engagement

Not all Intergenerational programs engage volunteers as we would define them generally. There are broadly two groups, with some overlap. In the first group are programs that engage volunteers as participants, whether they be adults, youth or children, individuals who freely choose to be involved. An example is Cyber-Seniors, where youth and seniors come together so that seniors can improve their technology skills and youth can improve their work and interpersonal skills. Another example is Volunteer Grandparents, a program that links up seniors with children without access to grandparents.

In the second group are those that might engage volunteers in a supportive role, but their participants are not volunteers. In many cases, they make a choice to be in the program, or their parents or caregivers choose for them to participate, but they are not volunteers as we understand that term. Examples of these programs are shared spaces between early childhood care centres and long-term care facilities where there are regular, scheduled activities and sometimes spontaneous interactions involving the young children and the older adults. 

Find Programs and Resources 

Through our work on Intergenerational Volunteering, we are turning a spotlight on this interesting and valuable way for Canadians to engage in their communities. We want to provide information, tools and resources to encourage older adults to volunteer with children and youth, to introduce school-aged children and adolescents to volunteering with people in other generations and to support organizations to design or improve programs that help to fill gaps in our communities.

If you would like to find a program for yourself or a member of your family, if you want to create or enhance an existing program, or if you are simply curious and want to learn more, we have compiled information for you in a searchable format.  Click below to connect to a searchable database of descriptions and links to programs, tools, guides, articles and video testimonials. After you have browsed the database, you are welcome to suggest other resources for us to include.



Resources on intergenerational volunteering and Intergenerational programs.

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Every year, Intergenerational Day is celebrated in Canada on June 1st. A wide range of activities take place all over the country to celebrate and promote the beauty of bringing generations together.