SLOVENIAN INTERGENERATIONAL CENTERS
The current demographic situation in Europe
“Europe is facing today unprecedented demographic change.” These words begin the European Commission's green paper Confronting demographic change: a new solidarity between the generations, a document which responds to the current aging-related demographic changes and to the urgent tasks that this new social phenomenon imposes. It is all about the following facts:
- the fertility rate is much too low for a natural renewal of the aging population;
- the young generation finds it difficult to enter gainful employment and start a family;
- the middle generation tends to retire early – paradoxically, the old generation has never in the history of mankind been more self-supporting financially and healthier physically, yet at the same time more dependent on the middle generation systemically (through their pensions), more marginalized socially and more isolated personally;
- the proportion of old-generation individuals that require a great deal of care and nursing is rapidly growing, particularly among the oldest;
- the young, middle and older generations are prevented by modern life style from interconnecting to the point where they could get to know one another well enough to feel themselves mutually complementary and, on the basis of this, develop intergenerational solidarity – a human essential for the survival of both the individual and society;
- it is getting increasingly difficult for a family to look after their incapacitated elderly members;
- a man or woman from the European culture does not feel that old age is an equally meaningful and valuable period of human life as youth and middle age, but often sinks into a sense of life’s pointlessness or an existential vacuum.
The local intergenerational center
The local intergenerational center is a complex model of community management for synergetically combining all political, civic and other programs, services, organizations and other subjects that provide for two vital areas of coexistence in a community: the quality aging and the solidarity between the young, middle and old generations in the present circumstances, when the traditional patterns of coexistence no longer suffice and the proportion of the elderly population is rapidly increasing.
The local intergenerational center model has stemmed from the ever clearer anthropological, social, and political realization that the problems which the aging of the population is about to create in the near future cannot be fought without simultaneously promoting a solidary coexistence of generations. The following tasks form the core of the intergenerational center model:
- a synergetic systemic engagement of all the agents relevant in the local community to quality aging and to solidarity between the young, middle and old generations; and of all political, civil, and other programs, services, organizations, etc. – these include, first and foremost, the local political authorities, civil service, public institutions of education and of social and health care, civil organizations, and committed individuals;
- sustained informing, edifying and educating of the responsible agents, families, organizations, and the entire community about what must and can be done in the area of quality aging and intergenerational solidarity in the community;
- basic ascertainment of the needs and capacities of the community population in this field;
- introduction and conduct of new programs on the basis of the needs and capacities ascertained, particularly of programs prolonging independent living of the elderly in their environment, programs assisting informal caregiving, and programs maintaining a wide network of intergenerational volunteer work.
The term local intergenerational center indicates three characteristics:
- The local principle. An intergenerational center is intended for the entire population of a coherent local community, such as the majority of the current municipalities in Slovenia. Other principles are possible: an intergenerational center can, for instance, be intended for a religious or ethnic community in a specific locality.
- The intergenerational principle. An intergenerational center incorporates all three generations, but not as a linear sum total of the organizations or programs for the young, middle, or older generation: rather, it is a hub of their active cooperation, association and interrelation, and of their complementing one another, overriding the tensions between individuals, groups, organizations, and programs of any of the three generations.
- The synergetic pursuance of surplus social capital by purposive integration of the needs and capacities of all three generations, civil and social services, and programs and organizations in the community, wherein the intergenerational center must not have the characteristics of a circle’s motionless center, but of a dynamic center of a spiral of development, whereat the entire community and its professional staff incessantly look for the right answers to the needs of quality aging and solidary coexistence of all three generations in the community.
A suitable form of organization for an intergenerational center is an institution founded on the principle of public-private partnership by the local government (the municipality) and appropriate civil organizations of the old, middle, and young generations. The intergenerational center should be run by a professional team specialized in organizing intergenerational social networks in a community.
The establishing of an intergenerational center proceeds in four steps or work phases. The first one is the decision of the municipality’s authorities that providing for quality aging and solidary intergenerational coexistence, alongside with keeping the entire community well informed and well-disposed, is going to take priority. This is followed by research into the needs and resources and the planning of the actual set-up of the intergenerational center. The third phase is the introduction of new programs for quality aging and intergenerational solidarity and the coalescence of all factors into a synergetically functioning unit. A local intergenerational center has been established once the management has likewise successfully completed the tasks which ensure the center’s independent functioning and developing and represent the fourth phase.
The local intergenerational center is a developmental response to the state of affairs at the beginning of the 21st century. These circumstances are the outcome of individualism, modernism, and other prevalent drifts of the near past. The attention was focused on separate constituents while the systemic order of the whole and of the essential relations inside it stayed in the background. A social reflection of this are young people’s, senior citizens’, trade unions’, workers’ and suchlike unigenerational centers throughout the local communities while a unified society interconnecting all three generations has all but dwindled away. This recent past, which highly developed a good many other facets, has left it to the present to accomplish the urgent task of developing interhuman coexistence and cooperation between individuals in the family, in the work group and other human groups, between the groups in the local community, and between the large national, economic and religious groups in the world. This task will be accomplished when the quality of coexistence in families, groups, and communities has attained the level of today’s material well-being. All the programs of a local intergenerational center should serve to accomplish this task.
The basis for the local intergenerational center model is comprehensive anthropology: a holistic view of man in his physical, psychological, social, spiritual, existential and developmental dimensions; a complementary unity of physical, psychic and social health; a complementary bonding of all three generations; and a life balance between the individual and the community. The greatest attention in the center’s work is paid to the links intermediate between individuals and the community, that is to the family and, most particularly, groups formed by people’s own choice on the principle of self-help and solidarity.
The concept and the methodology of establishing and running intergenerational centers have been developed at the Anton Trstenjak Institute for Gerontology and Intergenerational Coexistence, starting in 2002. The basis for it was our research data and practical experience gained in developing and introducing a social network of programs for quality aging and a solidary coexistence of generations.
Practical experience of installing intergenerational centers
In 2007 we were in the process of installing three different intergenerational centers: one in the highly developed municipality of Komenda, situated in central Slovenia 25 kilometers north of the capital city and having a population of 5,000; one in Ruše, a relatively large municipality with a mixed population of farmers and industrial workers on the northern fringe of Slovenia; and the third in one of the Catholic archdioceses, a special regional intergenerational center to comprise institutions for all generations within the same complex: a day-care center, a high school, a student dormitory, an adult education center, a music school, a recreational center, and an old people’s home on the modern basis of household groups.
It was in Komenda that most work has been done. First we conducted an investigation into the needs and capacities of the old generation on a representative sample of 60- and over-60-year-olds. The whole population was made aware of the tasks and opportunities in the field of quality aging and intergenerational coexistence via regular broadcasts on the local TV, articles in the local monthly, and public discussion involving numerous lectures, panels, and drives. The municipality leadership were supplied organizational and managerial expert consultancy. Through the synergy of expert knowledge provided to the municipality by the Institute and informed articulation of the community’s own needs and potentials, we thus arrived at a fully inclusive conception of what programs were required for quality aging and intergenerational coexistence. The highest municipal body adopted a municipal strategy for quality aging and solidary coexistence of generations until the year 2015.
A functional plan and an architectural blueprint of the intergenerational center were made and approved, and the money for its construction and for the introduction of programs was secured. The introduction is now an ongoing process: the training of family caregivers, who take care of an elderly member of their family at home, and their association into local »relatives’ clubs« on the principle of self-help and expert support; the training and organizing of a widespread network of volunteers who bring together people from the young, middle-aged and retired generations; the systematic training of all teachers and childcare workers to educate about intergenerational solidarity; the training and education of the members of youth organizations and the Scout Movement; and the training of retirees for a quality retirement life and better understanding of the younger two generations.
The building of a modern municipal old people’s home is about to start, as is the building of assisted living apartments which, when it becomes necessary, will turn into household groups with full nursing care without having to move the old people. Home care and other services helpful to families are becoming more widespread; University of the Third Age classes, seniors’ advocacy services, a local hospice, and other programs are in their preparatory phase. Most emphasis, however, is being placed on connecting all these factors into a system of an all-embracing social network, bringing into prominence public education, age-friendly spatial planning, and non-governmental organizations, many of which are locally very active.
What facilitates the establishment of this particular local generational center is that the locality has had a good social tradition for over two hundred years, ever since Peter Pavel Glavar, one of the greatest social geniuses in Slovenian history, worked in the place and left it an inspiring legacy of social institutions.
The transition from the 20th to the 21st century is a transition from a century of children to a century of old people . The aging of our population has faced us with the task of achieving a new quality of interhuman symbiosis so bluntly that completing the task is simply a must if we want to maintain the development of our European culture and the national cultures therein. If we manage to complete the task successfully, our culture will raise the psychosocial quality of life to a new evolutionary level, comparable to the rise of material welfare in the last one hundred years. The situation being such, the EU policy calls upon all EU members to harness all their potential for the effectuation of new models of quality aging and intergenerational solidarity, and to present their experience to the entire European community.
Our own contribution to this is the new programs for intergenerational solidarity in a local community, particularly the model of encapsulating all efforts in a synergizing local intergenerational center. Our experience so far indicates that local intergenerational centers are a totally realistic model, suitable for every local or other community; but it also indicates that their introduction is a demanding professional task of social management. At all events, a sine qua non of establishing an intergenerational center is the synergism of comprehensive gerontology and a clear anthropological, social, and political realization that the problems which will continue to ensue from population aging in the following years are not containable unless we simultaneously instill solidarity in the coexistent generations.