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With Little Brothers, A New Way to Serve the Elderly

Over the past three years, Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly in Boston has been finding ways to better serve the local elderly community. After participating in Age Friendly Boston’s discovery phase and researching what might be missing for existing services, they completely revitalized their service delivery model and are now engaging in new intergenerational opportunities and ESL visiting programs.

Their new City Sites program offers weekly social opportunities for seniors 55 and over to connect with international and local university students where they live: in the community spaces of public and private senior housing buildings. Thus far, they’ve hosted programs in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Chinese, Albanian, and Vietnamese, among others.

Nikki Therrien, who became executive director in 2015 and has helmed Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly’s new direction, says, “This is a big time for us—we’ve always considered ourselves a gap-filling agency. Looking at the current senior population in Boston and the services available, we’ve made City Sites our core program. We started in a couple buildings, and now we’ll be in 15 locations across the city in the fall.”

By 2020, Little Brothers hopes to be in 24 different buildings working with 250 seniors on a weekly basis, particularly prioritizing underserved and impoverished communities. This year, they’re stepping up their outreach to high school and middle school students for collaboration. “We’re trying to fight ageism, and make it normal for young people to spend time with older people,” says Therrien.

Their summer series recently started, and the response from international student volunteers has been especially enthusiastic. Therrien says that’s been an unintended positive outcome: “Our international students are lonely outside their own country, and have found it hard integrating. They’ve found real value in this program in particular. They say they’ve found their family and community in Boston.”

The older residents often mentor the younger volunteers and speak from their decades of experience. Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly has also helped seniors connect with programs that allow them to reengage in the community and, in one case, find part-time employment.

The retired Baby Boomer population is exploding, and by 2030, it’s expected that more people will be over 60 than under 18. In Boston, this holds true—the senior population is growing and also increasing in diversity. Many seniors hope to age in place instead of going to a facility, and Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly aims to broaden social support and programs where they live to meet these needs.

As an institution, Little Brothers was founded after World War II to provide for the elderly without resources or family. The Boston chapter opened its doors in 1979. In last year alone, they worked with over 1000 elderly women and men over nearly 30,000 volunteer hours from over 1,500 volunteers. They have program sites all over Boston.

Little Brothers is always looking for introductions to youth groups and senior living programs so that they can connect seniors with young people in productive, meaningful ways. For more details on events, check their calendar.

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About the Author

Katherine Igoe

Katherine J. Igoe is a freelance writer and editor who moved to Boston in 2014 with her husband (right before all the snow came). Loves writing about local food, culture, and quirks, as well as more serious things like mental health. Follow her/send her ideas on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.