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Intergenerational Games Aim to Bring Young and Old Together

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(Photo: The Intergenerational Game of cigarette bowling is meant to show kids how tough it is to kick the habit. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS .)

A couple of times a year, San Diego County stages what are called the Intergenerational Games . The idea is to stimulate interactions between the generations. Seniors and teenagers pair up in a series of simple contests. It’s a friendly competition with a public health theme, and the organizers of the games say everybody wins. KPBS health reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

At San Diego’s O’Farrell Charter Middle School , the latest edition of the Intergenerational Games is underway.

At the first event, a group of young teens and some older adults take turns on a portable putting green.

After a couple of practice shots, contestants have to kneel down, put their head on a putter, and turn around three times. Then, they have to try to hit the ball in the hole.

It’s called Dizzy Golf. The idea is to show how tough it is to perform the simplest of tasks when you’re under the influence.

Another one of the games is known as cigarette bowling. The bowling pins look like giant cigarettes. Players try to knock the pins over with a rubber ball. The game is meant to show how tough it is to kick the habit.

Denise Nelesen is with the San Diego County Department of Aging and Independent Services. She says each one of the events has a public health message behind it. But Nelesen points out there’s more to the Intergenerational Games than that.

Nelesen : Well, it’s pairing up of older adults and younger people for the benefit of both: very healthy recreation, interaction, learn more about each other, get rid of the stigma of the different ages.

To be sure, the contestants don’t have much in common. The seniors are all volunteers who are involved in a number of different activities throughout the county. The kids all come from a home where a parent or a close relative is behind bars.

Sandy Laurenson : At first it’s a little bit stiff, but before long, everybody’s friends, everybody’s cheering for each other, and it’s real easy. And it’s a great environment for working with kids and getting to know them better.

Sandy Laurenson is a spry looking senior. She says she likes hanging out with young people.

Laurenson : I get a fresh look at life, there’s so much energy and enthusiasm, and just to keep up with the latest trends, I feel it’s good to know some kids, and learn the language and learn how to fix my computer.

Eighth-grader Alfredo Gutierrez sure seems to be enjoying himself, too. He’s quick with a laugh or a smile, even if he doesn’t quite get the hang of each event at first.

Gutierrez says he has no problem spending time with older adults.

Gutierrez : Well, age don’t matter because, like, it don’t matter if you’re old, or young, you can still have fun, either way. We can still play the same games and stuff.

At the end of today’s games, everyone will get an Olympic-style medal to wear around their neck. They’ll also get a photo and a special t-shirt.

The Intergenerational Games are in their fifth year. The County’s Denise Nelesen says the concept is worth spreading around.

Nelesen : We’d like to see them in every community. We’d like to see community cities take it up as a project for themselves, and we will help, and you know, get it goin’. It’s a neat thing.

The next Intergenerational Games will be held this fall in both the South Bay and East County.

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.

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