In the heart of Palm Desert, a remarkable eight-week program is quietly making a profound impact on the lives of older adults and college students alike. The Sages & Seekers program, created and administered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) Palm Desert Campus, offers a unique opportunity to bridge generational gaps, promote mental health and combat loneliness. Through a short-term commitment, Coachella Valley residents engage in meaningful interactions and shared experiences that transform lives and foster a stronger sense of community.
At the core of the Sages & Seekers program is the connection between two diverse groups: older adults (sages) and college students (seekers). Through lightly facilitated conversations, shared activities and mentorship, the program helps to create a nurturing environment where meaningful relationships can flourish, boosting overall life satisfaction.
The mission of the program is to explore how intergenerational communication can alleviate feelings of loneliness and improve overall well-being. It is a component of CSUSB’s OLLI program and is affiliated with the international Sages & Seekers non-profit based in Los Angeles. This organization connects generations in six countries, providing a proven platform for the shared pursuit of purpose and belonging. Since its inception in 2009, the Sages & Seekers program has connected more than 6,000 seniors and young adults from diverse sociocultural backgrounds.
For sages, the program offers CSUSB OLLI members the opportunity to share their wealth of life experiences, wisdom and expertise with younger generations. Members meet with students for one hour per week during the eight-week course. The meaningful connections formed bring joy, companionship and a renewed sense of belonging for all, potentially improving mental and emotional well-being.
At the same time, seekers gain unique insights and perspectives from sages, contributing to their personal and academic growth. Participation in the program can even earn students credit toward their undergraduate degrees. Engaging in intergenerational communication helps to broaden horizons and develop empathy and cultural competence. These valuable skills are transferable to various aspects of students’ lives and future careers, setting them up for success in an interconnected world.
The Sages & Seekers program has shown promising results in improving mental health and well-being for both generations, as evaluated in 2017 by the University of Southern California’s Gerontology Department. During this time, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association had also identified that major depression and suicide rates were at an all-time high for both young adults and seniors. By fostering companionship, the
Sages & Seekers program attempts to combat these rising rates of mental illness by creating a supportive network that promotes resilience, self-esteem and a sense of belonging.
Under the leadership of Dr. Robert Leo, a communication studies lecturer at the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus, the Sages & Seekers program is conducting a groundbreaking research study entitled, “Examining the Impact of Intergenerational Communication on Loneliness.” This study explores the transformative power of meaningful interactions between sages and seekers in alleviating loneliness and enhancing overall well-being. Research will consider the connections cultivated at the community level through the program while contributing to the broader field of intergenerational studies.
The CSUSB Palm Desert Campus has become a hub for this transformative program attracting dedicated faculty, staff and volunteers who are passionate about creating positive change in the community. The campus’ commitment to intergenerational communication studies has facilitated collaborations with local senior centers, health care organizations and academic institutions, enriching the program and ensuring its responsiveness to the evolving needs of our community.
As the CSUSB Sages & Seekers program continues to grow, its impact will extend beyond the boundaries of the campus. The university envisions expanding to other educational institutions, community centers and senior living communities in the Coachella Valley. By promoting health, well-being and a sense of purpose across generations, the program is creating a ripple effect that strengthens the fabric of our community.
If you are a lifelong learner eager to share your wisdom and life experiences, we encourage you to enroll in OLLI and join the waitlist to become a sage where you can make a positive impact on the lives of college students. Together, we can bridge the generational gap, combat loneliness and foster health and connection.
Amanda Reigle is the Sages & Seekers student program coordinator and lead researcher for the “Examining the Impact of Intergenerational Communication on Loneliness: A Comprehensive Study.” To become an OLLI member or for more information about the OLLI program at the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus, visit www.csusb.edu/olli.