Courtesy of: Lifting Hearts with the Arts

Today’s seniors and young adults may have grown up in completely different eras of music and media, but one growing program is proving that art can be a powerful bridge between generations. 

Maya Joshi was a high school student in Chicago when the COVID-19 pandemic began forcing long-term care residents into isolation and the inspiration struck to form Lifting Hearts with the Arts. 

“There were all these articles coming out about seniors being really restricted at long-term care facilities and not being able to connect with their friends and families,” Joshi told McKnight’s. “I remembered that I had connected with my grandparents through art when I was younger. So I wondered if there was a way to use art as a medium to make connections between people who probably would not interact with each other outside of the situation. ”

Joshi connected with two classmates in April 2020 and formed the organization with the goal of setting up regular virtual visits between Chicago teens and residents at eldercare facilities. High school students and residents would meet in 1-on-1 sessions or group calls organized around a central activity.

Residents were particularly fond of virtual “concerts” and sing-alongs where the two generations would join together to create music. Trivia games and “guess-the-song” activities were also popular — Joshi noted that the elders had plenty of nostalgic hits to share with their new friends. 

Lifting Hearts quickly expanded, thanks largely to word-of-mouth. It was already built for the longer term, too — Joshi explained that the newly formed organization focused on connecting teens and residents in the same general area so that in-person visits could happen later and connections could blossom into truly lasting friendships. 

Still growing

The program has expanded rapidly and now operates in four more states — ​​Michigan, California, Nevada and Washington. It has partnered with 53 individual facilities across the eldercare spectrum  — such as Meadowbrook Rehabilitation in Chicago’s southwest suburbs — for more than 7,200 visits. 

“It’s been really fun,” Joshi said. “It’s exciting to meet people I’ve talked to over the phone for two years and finally get to give them a hug in person.”

In the summer of 2023, Lifting Hearts partnered with Innovation 80, another nonprofit aiming to promote and fund arts programs for underserved populations in Chicago. Lifting Hearts now operates the CoGen Creations program — hosting eight-week programs connecting 15-20 students with residents based on similar interests.

Those groups begin and end the program by creating visual art together, using accessible supplies like markers and coloring pencils to craft colorful results. The final art pieces the pair create are meant to represent the connection the two have formed over the weeks of the program. 

Courtesy of: Lifting Hearts with the Arts

The flourishing of intergenerational connections has been incredible to see, Joshi told McKnight’s.

“There’s so much that both generations can learn from each other — whether that’s simple things like culture, artists or music or larger life lessons from very different perspectives.” she explained. “It creates the space for interesting discussions. That doesn’t always happen on the first day — there will be awkward silences, that’s completely normal. But by getting to know someone over eight weeks or longer you get to know them as a person and understand why they think the way they do.”

As Joshi and her friends begin their time at college, she said they hope to expand Lifting Hearts with the Arts to involve and educate college students and bring meaningful connections to even more seniors.

For more stories on the brighter side, take a look at this story about brightening the fabric of long-term care life.