What Does Cogenerational Funding Look Like? These 10 Grantees Paint a Picture

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Our nation and world are aging. More older folks are running around than ever before, sometimes literally. I recently went on a hike with an 81-year-old friend who I definitely did not outpace on the trail. But intergenerational hiking — and working, and socializing — are not the norm. The U.S. is so age-segregated that it has been referred to as a nation of “age apartheid,” said Marc Freedman, founder of the nonprofit CoGenerate, which just announced the 10 winners of its “CoGen Challenge to Advance Economic Opportunity.” Ares Charitable Foundation gave CoGenerate $700,000 for the challenge, as I wrote in September. 

The CoGen Challenge is designed to elevate “cogenerational models that bring older and younger generations together to help create a more inclusive and prosperous future.” It is an example of the small but growing field of “cogenerational” or “intergenerational” programming and philanthropy — which taps the talents of people from different generations to solve an array of problems. Bringing generations together opens up new possibilities for solving the serious problems we face and is a cure for the rising loneliness and isolation plaguing people of all generations. At least that is the thinking behind much of the work in this area. 

Age integration can happen in all kinds of ways, as the winners of this CoGen Challenge show. While some grantees seem like obvious picks, such as those focused on mentorship, others are more surprising. Winners focus on a wide range of issues, come from very different communities, and are of different sizes and longevity. Together, they demonstrate an array of ways organizations can bring an innovative, cogenerational approach to broader educational and economic efforts.

Getting oldsters and youngsters together

During the month-long application period last fall, more than 160 organizations submitted grant requests. The 10 winning groups will each receive a $20,000 grant as well as six months of pretty extensive peer and professional support and coaching, beginning with the first in-person meeting this February. Winners include Denver-based Access Gallery, which is creating a cogenerational incubator for older and younger artists with disabilities; The Church Council of Greater Seattle, bringing together intergenerational groups of faith leaders to create more equitable stewardship of church-owned land and property; Miami-based Venprendedoras Foundation, empowering female immigrant entrepreneurs through cross-generational learning and collaboration; and Oakland-based Substantial Classrooms, working on an intergenerational support program for substitute teachers.

“When we put it out, we didn’t really know what to expect, what kinds of ideas we would get,” said Cristina Rodriguez, the CoGen Challenge director. “Every single one of them is unique. The age range for the leaders of these initiatives is 28 to 65. We have these really large organizations like MENTOR New York and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and then very rural, local solutions. I think that will make for a very interesting and diverse experience and bring different perspectives. I’m excited to see all the projects that come to life.”

The original plan was to award just eight fellowships, but CoGenerate wound up selecting 10 winners, an expanded cohort that includes two organizations focused on intergenerational national service and were part of last year’s CoGenerate cohort-based program, Generations Serving Together. These include ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, which will use the money for its Cogenerational Service Academy to create multigenerational teams of AmeriCorps members and volunteers focusing on a variety of issues, and Northern Santa Barbara County United Way, which is also working with AmeriCorps but focusing on intergenerational homeless outreach. These two groups submitted new applications focused on economic opportunity for this challenge, and CoGenerate was able to use funding from the previous program to include them in this new cohort.

“National service is an area where we see a lot of room for cogeneration,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of times with AmeriCorps, the younger and older generations tend to be siloed. We want to show these multigenerational teams happening and inspire a wider movement around cogeneration.”

Cogenerational funding paves a positive path for tweens

Contest winner Hemphill Community Center, with its “Mamaw Mentorship” program in Eastern Kentucky, is exactly the kind of co-generational program I anticipated this contest funding. Led by Gwen Johnson, the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, the program clearly revolves around cogenerational interaction as a key support for girls and older women living in this Appalachian community that struggles with economic adversity, outmigration and drug addiction.  

The Mamaw Mentorship will connect older women with eighth-grade girls for lunchtime chats, afterschool speakers and other activities. As the program description explains, these cogenerational connections provide an opportunity to “reimagine the transition from eighth grade to high school. By collaborating with the ‘grandmothers’ in crafting new rites of passage and preserving cultural traditions, the younger girls will become stewards of their community’s unique heritage.” (Check out the community social enterprise Black Sheep Brick Oven Bakery, founded by Johnson in the Hemphill Community Center, to learn more about some of the challenges the community faces, and to see photos of baked goods that will make you want to head to Kentucky for lunch right now.)

I’ll take a side of cogenerationalism with my main program

Other winners are not so squarely focused on cogenerational connection, but rather on issues that could benefit from an intergenerational approach. Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, for example, won a CoGen grant for a national advocacy campaign. There is nothing inherently cogenerational about advocating for guaranteed income, but it certainly can be done with an intergenerational approach — and, of course, guaranteed income programs may be particularly valuable to multigenerational households with young children and/or older, vulnerable adults. Still, this win seems to be based on applying a cogenerational lens to a wider movement.

Oregon-based Urban Rural Action, which is working on free financial literacy classes that will “connect generations across rural Tillamook County,” is another group whose focus is not primarily intergenerational work. While the program description explains the value of older adults sharing stories that highlight the importance of things like budgeting and younger people helping with tech issues that can be barriers to financial employment, financial literacy classes don’t necessarily need a cogenerational approach.

In some cases, it looks to me like good grant writers added a cogenerational component to an existing program. This is not a critique, but rather an observation of how cogenerational work can enhance programming, and how philanthropy can better support it. One stated aim of the congenerational movement — and of many aging-related funders and the state-level multisector plans for aging in place — is to encourage leaders, policymakers and everyday citizens to think about older folks and intergenerational interaction in all of their programs, rather than as a single issue or stand-alone project. I’m thinking specifically of a conversation I had with Andrew Levack of St. David’s Foundation about that group’s relatively new intergenerational portfolio. As Levack said, one of the foundation’s next goals is to incorporate intergenerational thinking into the work of grantees in general. “It can be a program or just a philosophy about how you do your day-to-day work. We look for ways to further integrate it within our existing grants,” he said.

Foundations can up their impact by embracing this type of expansive thinking — recognizing that whatever their main focus, aging and intergenerational connection likely could, and should, be part of it. It’s an approach that could benefit many pervasive problems, from racial inequality to climate change. 

CoGen Challenge’s Rodriguez said these 10 winners and their work can help with the effort. “We really think they will be able to advance their work during this period and model what is happening around the country in this trend of cogeneration. We think they will really inspire others to be thinking about cogeneration when trying to solve a problem.”

CoGenerate is also looking for funding for its next CoGen Challenge, which will focus on loneliness and social isolation.