By Erika Taylor
Last year, after Carmen Messina Janneck helped plan a retirement party for Denver’s departing police chief, she was inspired.
She had secured the jazz band from North High School, the departing chief’s alma mater, to provide music, and being her charismatic, connected self, she struck up a conversation with the kids and their band leader, John Jonas, during the event.
In talking with them, Carmen uncovered the kids’ desire for more opportunities to make music, space to learn from other musicians, especially those who were already making music professionally, and connection. So why not create an intergenerational band that would bring older and younger musicians together?
A few weeks later, Carmen and her husband, Larry, himself a blues musician (and a retired New York firefighter), formed the Special Blend Intergenerational Musical Showcase, recruited students from the North High music program and started securing gigs, including opening for the Denver Municipal Band’s concerts in their summer park series.
Let’s go back to one of the the list of things Carmen discovered the kids needed in talking to the group of young musicians at the beginning of this story. In 2021, the CDC reported that more than 42% of high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless and that one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.
The same study shows social isolation is associated with a 29% increased risk of mortality and a 59% increased risk of functional decline.
In May, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an advisory asserting loneliness, isolation and lack of connection are a new public-health crisis. The good news is that humans are resilient, and we know what works to support mental health: for one thing, feeling connected.
While many types of connection can mitigate the negative effects of isolation, one recent study really caught my attention. A team of scientists in Japan devised a study called, “Integration in Community Building to Improve Mental Health.”
They made four groups of mixed-age people and brought them together repeatedly over time. One group worked on an assigned task independently. The second, a task of their choosing independently. The third, an assigned task in collaboration with the group. And the fourth, a task of their choosing collaboratively.
Can you guess which groups scored higher on measures of improved mental health during their exit interviews? Yep, the ones who worked on projects collaboratively. With the highest marks of satisfaction and health benefit concentrated in the group that worked on a project they chose together.
They called those last groups examples of “cross-generational interaction.” Interaction in which groups of people of different ages work together, for example, at work, school or play. Does that sound like a group we met earlier in this article? Sure does to me.
Not only are they an excellent example of cross-generational interaction; they are habit-stacking the heck out of it. They are learning new skills, which we know is a key factor in maintaining wellness, and they work hard practicing what we know indicates compressed morbidity. Music itself is a health promotion rock star, giving both halves of the age equation a sense of purpose.
It also allows band members and their fans chances to build relationships with people who hold different perspectives and bring different ideas to the table. If you want to be inspired by the possibilities of what it’s like to bring generations together, check out Special Blend live at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 at Mayfair Park. And look around your own life.
What opportunities for cross-generational interaction can you find? It doesn’t have to be a whole band! Do you know a young person who likes to bake? Set a monthly meeting and see what you can create. Like to paint?
I bet there’s a senior living center that would welcome a team of teens leading a painting club. Maybe it’s gardening at your closest high school, or puzzles or calligraphy or nature walking. You have interests that aren’t bound by your age.
Be like Carmen Messina Jannek and her inspired Special Blend Intergenerational Musical Showcase. See a need for connection and be willing to foster those connections.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email email@example.com.