Generations United Podcast

Episode 5: Joan Lombardi on What's Going Right for America

August 12, 2019
Generations United Podcast
Episode 5: Joan Lombardi on What's Going Right for America
Chapters
Generations United Podcast
Episode 5: Joan Lombardi on What's Going Right for America
Aug 12, 2019
Generations United
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. Joan Lombardi, a giant in the early education field, discusses the role of community elders being changemakers for children and youth. She also discusses family separation at the border. 



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Speaker 1:
0:03
Welcome to the generations United podcast where we share insights from experts in the intergenerational field on how these practices improve the lives of children, youth, and older adults. I'm your host Donna Butts, executive director of generations United today. I'm thrilled to have as our guest, our longtime friend and colleague John Lombardi. Joan is a giant in the early childhood education world. She's dedicated her life to advocating and inspiring investments in children. She's a well known author and advocate not just here in the u s but abroad as well. She also served as generations United's co-chair of our seniors per kids initiative and currently is the director of the early opportunities, a nonpartisan effort to improve public, private and civic investments in the children and families. Welcome to the show, Joan.
Speaker 2:
0:50
Thank you, Donna. Thank you for all your work.
Speaker 1:
0:52
Oh, I appreciate that. It's been wonderful to share in that work with you for many, many years and you've always been such a hero and an inspiration with your dedication. I remember, I think when I first started at generations United, one of the first conferences I went to was one that you sponsored when you were at the children's bureau and it was an intergenerational childcare and I thought the materials that came out of that, the excitement that came out of that were were really, really inspiring. I wish that there were more people thinking about the role of older adults in children's lives and in providing childcare today. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Speaker 2:
1:27
I'm really glad that you remembered those moments because I think for everyone working in public service, they have a real opportunity whether you work on senior services or you work on children's issues to bring those two parts of an agency or across agencies together and to promote intergenerational efforts. We need much more of that.
Speaker 1:
1:48
I agree with you. Some of our more recent work together was with seniors for kids and that was an effort that we had that ran for about 10 years and it was really designed to raise the voices of older adults and supportive policies that benefit children in youth. You co-chaired that campaign with anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson. Can you talk about the importance of community elders and their role in making sure that we're making the positive changes at children and youth need?
Speaker 2:
2:15
Sure. You know, seniors for kids was an idea that I think we need to rekindle from coast to coast across the country. We often talk about bringing seniors into volunteer service with children, which of course is so important, but we also need their voice and their influence. So many people who've lived and work in communities for many years when a particular state or have run a business or contributed in some other way have a light influence in decision making and we need their help to make children a priority. As you become a grandparent, which I have become, you appreciate the need for improved policies for children more and more. For example, although I've been an advocate for child most of my adult life, when my own grandson was born and my daughter and son in law, I started to look for childcare and face the problems that we know exist so often across the country. It made me even more committed to speaking out on behalf of paid leave and improve childcare and I think we see that same thing happening. Too many grandparents across the country. Now on the other side of the picture, I'm have my 96 year old mother living near me in an assisted living and it's brought home the importance of advocating for elder care and childcare together. They're both under resource. They both in need of public attention, so advocates for children and advocates for seniors really need to come together to form a stronger voice.
Speaker 1:
3:46
I really agree with you, Joan. I remember having these conversations before and trying to understand why the childcare and elder care workforce and fields didn't work more closely together. It seems like in the aging field when it comes to intergenerational connections, there's a deeper understanding or interest in intergenerational work. We've seen some of that from the children and youth side, but not as much and I don't know if you have any thoughts or suggestions on how we can try to motivate the groups to work more closely together.
Speaker 2:
4:16
Yeah, I think, you know, sometimes I see them working together and sometimes they don't. It's certainly not enough. But because child and youth policies and services are often so separate from elder care services, whether it be the community level or as a public service level, we don't see them coming together. We need to be more intentional in our efforts in bringing these worlds together. We need incentives to bring services together at every level. We need to help people see why this is important. What is the goal of bringing elder care and child care, for example, together? Overall, I think the goal is to strengthen the social fabric of a community to build kind of supports that extended families often provided in former times, but those supports are not in places often given the demands of work or that families are separated by miles and by time or the demands of both children and parents.
Speaker 2:
5:15
You know, agencies are just designed to deal with one or two issues on a special topic, often to walk for one particular age group. But families don't come like that. Families don't come and park today. I need child care for my baby and I need a better school for my first grader tomorrow. I need special services for my teenager and a nursing home for my grandmother. And so I think agencies and organizations have to begin to think about the holistic needs of families. And that's one of the main reasons why we need to be working together.
Speaker 1:
5:48
I think you make some really, really good points, Joan, that so oftentimes people are working in these silos that we've created our policies, our funding streams, the way that we've looked at at, as you said, as families and as fragments, as segments rather than a whole unit. And understand that families don't end at the parent level either. It's the aunt, it's the grandparents, it's the others that really helped to strengthen a family. So how we can look at that, our policy and the way that we implement our programs and deliver services, I think really needs to change. And especially in light of what you were saying earlier about becoming a grandparent, there's more than 70 million grandparents in America now and that number's just going to continue to grow. So it's really how we make sure that we're looking at all generations as an asset.
Speaker 2:
6:36
And then, you know, I think a lot of those grandparents are concerned about their grandchildren and their access to good services, particularly if they live far away. And at the same time, those same grandmothers have elders in their lives that they're also caring for it. So this is a multigenerational issue that families are facing. Yet our service delivery system doesn't fit that image of a family.
Speaker 1:
7:03
But I always think about too is the u n I remember several years ago actually, you know, declared the family as the cornerstone or the foundation of civil societies. And if they really are the core of our communities and our neighborhoods and what makes our country strong. So anything that we can do to help to support families, to support all generations in a family, I think is really important. Couple of years ago when we released a report with the Eisner Foundation called United, we thrive the power of intergenerational unity. You are wonderful to come and join us as a speaker. And panelist did that. And one of the comments you made was the stories of intergenerational connections are the fabric of what's going right for the country. I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about how you feel that that's the fabric of what's right in the country.
Speaker 2:
7:47
Well, yeah, I remember the port report well and first of all, thank you for your work on that. You know, the title to me said it all. You know, did we thrive? What I see when I visit with communities across the country or when I hear people talking about their communities is the sense that people are trying to find ways to support each other. That new leadership is emerging new voices, both parents and grandparents. You know, as you know, Donna, I focus mainly on the conditions affecting young children and what I see families need today is that census support both from their own extended families and from the larger community. That sense that someone is caring for their wellbeing. For parents. It's this social network of support that provides the enabling environment that allows them to be effective. I do see a lot of that happening. At the community level. And one thing that was great about your report was that you highlighted those efforts and you know, particularly now as we hear and we're concerned with so many of the things that are going on across the country, it's time to focus those things that are happening in communities that are positive because I think that reflects a real America.
Speaker 1:
9:04
I totally agree with you in terms of we seem to lose that positive story and we need to elevate that. The one thing that we mentioned in the report was oftentimes when we think about solutions, we elevate them to a level that is complex and that individuals feel like they have no power to really assert themselves in. And one of the things that we said in the report was as an individual, what is it that you can do? And what I think about with a family, and I'd love to hear what your thoughts on this is it even if you don't feel like you have the influence in some areas, what you can do is reach across the street, connect with a neighbor and be there for the children. And the families that are around you. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Speaker 2:
9:45
Yeah, I think that's key. It's, you know, I always think advocacy starts at home. It starts with welcoming a neighbor. It starts with going across the street as you were saying and reaching out, taking in someone's mail when they're on vacation, bringing you know, soup with another family member is sick. Being concerned in joining neighbors to make sure that the children that are at the border that are coming into the country have the right support and supplies that they need all across the country. We're seeing individual acts of, I would call it heroism and you know from first responders on down and I think we have to highlight and pick those up every day because they are reweaving the fabric of communities and supporting families in ways that we need much more of.
Speaker 1:
10:41
Joan, you've really started to touch on something. I know you and I have both been thinking a lot about lately and that's this concern about children who are being separated from their parents at the border. We found in a report that we issued last year, a report called love without borders, grand families and immigration, that about a half a million children in immigrant families are being raised by extended family members. That what's happening is touching entire extended families. It's impacting children. It's taking them away from the grandparents and caregivers that they love and that they need not just their parents, but what are you thinking about on this issue of immigration, of separation, and what do you think we can do about this terrible situation?
Speaker 2:
11:23
Yeah. Well, first of all, we can do better than this. As a country. We really have to address the racial justice issues that the country's ignored for generations. And as you're saying, we are a nation of immigrants. The u s in many ways is a place of hope that we can live together, that we can celebrate our diversity, that we can appreciate the richness and contributions of all people. We can't lose this idea. It's a critical moment in the country. Families belong together. Parents hoping for a better life for their children should never be separated from them. We can do better than this. We need new immigration policies including ongoing supports for those people applying for asylum. We need a pathway to citizenship for those people that have been working in the shadows for years at some of the most difficult jobs and for their children who are often dreamers. So standing up and speaking out about these policies right now is critically important. More immediate. I think, again, as we were seeing, we have to do something as volunteers to support new members of our community to, to volunteer and welcome those people that are arriving in our bus stops to volunteer with a group organizing to support our neighbors. You know, democracy is not a spectator sport. People have to get involved
Speaker 1:
12:44
and one of the things that we've tried to do is get out the message that yes, we're country immigrants and there are dual demographic changes that our country's experiencing. They do not only have an aging population, we have an aging population that is predominantly white and we have a younger population that's of color. And unlike a number of countries where they have limited immigrations or not allowed immigration, it's really our country's greatest strength because we have this younger population that's coming up that is vibrant, that's going to make sure that our economy continues to be strong and to grow and that need to connect those generations to cherish and welcome people as they come into this country and want to make a better life is something that we all need to work together on.
Speaker 2:
13:24
Well, and I would add, uh, that, you know, if you look across the country at the recent immigrants or immigrants that have been here for 10, 20 years, working in, again in some of the hardest jobs in our neighborhoods, in our communities, there are elderly and there are young people. And again, I think one of the things we should be intentional about is bringing traditional senior serving agencies, traditional early childhood agencies together with agencies that are focusing on immigrants and refugees and making those connections stronger. And assuring they have access to those services. We can do that.
Speaker 1:
14:06
We can. So Jonah's we're into our conversation and thinking about some of these things. Are there other things that have been on your mind lately or other areas that you're going to be focusing on or plan to focus on?
Speaker 2:
14:17
Well, I mean I think, again, I've been doing a lot of focusing on the community work that's emerging in hundreds and hundreds of communities across the country that come together to plan and to think about how they can be with this community to raise a child. I think continuing to learn from them, continuing to lift up the examples for them and hope that that can inform policy from the bottom up. I've been very focused on promoting new and diverse leadership in the field, helping to raise the issues of childcare globally in low income countries. You know, I'm very blessed, have a wealth of options and opportunities and I think each of us has that specialness inside of us that we have to share and use our agencies to the best possible ability that we can. You know, I think what I'm most hopeful about is that there are more people saying we have to spread joy, not hate. We have to spread hope, not fear. We have to stay up to mystic and believe that change is possible and the belief that you can make a difference.
Speaker 1:
15:21
I think that's beautifully said because it's so easy to get caught up in that whores that we hear about, that we see that we experience and wonder, where's that positive colonel? Where is it that we can find joy? And it's that need to make sure that we're gonna continue that advocates that are as strong and important and have such great voices as yours are elevated and listened to. So I really appreciate everything that you've done in that you are continuing to do. But one last thing, Joe, and you did mention the fact that one thing that's changed since we've known each other over the years is that you're now a grandmother. And was there anything that you discovered when you became a grandmother that you weren't expecting
Speaker 2:
16:00
and to just, you know, it's a joyful experience I think because I didn't around children for a long time, but there is a special nurse about becoming a grandparent and there's a special responsibility and there's just a special joy. And I think what it did for me is once again, make me appreciate how hard it is to parent and how much young parents need or support in different ways than past generations did. We've got to, again, reweave that fabric of support. My grandchild lives 200 miles away from me. So finding the way and hoping that there are people in his community and my children's community can support them along the way. It just brought that home.
Speaker 1:
16:43
Oh, I think that's such an important point because one thing that we say is if you don't have a child in your life, find one. You don't have an older adult in your life. Find One. And even if you're not as close physically and geographically, two grandchildren, your nieces, your nephews, you can play that caring role in someone's life. So I really appreciate that message. Thanks Joan. Joan, I want to say thank you for your time today and thank our audience for tuning in and listening to our conversation. The next guest on our show is going to be Nancy Henkin. Nancy is a legend in the intergenerational field, having worked in this area for more than 40 years and founding the intergenerational center at Temple University. We're also fortunate that she's a senior fellow here at generations United, so she'll be joining me next. In the meantime, think about grandparents' Day, which is coming up and remember to do something grand.
Speaker 1:
17:33
Think about the conversation that Joan and I just had and if there's one thing that you can pull out of it and one thing that you can do and one day you can do it, do it in honor of grandparent's day and let's do make it a time to do something grand for another generation. I'd also like to ask people if they would please leave review of our podcast on apple podcasts or other streaming platforms. That's how we get out there, how people hear about us, and we want to be able to share this intergenerational message and the importance of keeping the generations connected with everyone. I'd like to thank again, John Lombardi for all you do and for joining us. Thank you for listening and remember, stay connected to another generation. We are stronger together. Thank you.
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