New project from Iowa City Senior Center forges intergenerational connections

GenStories, a project from the Iowa City Senior Center, features center members and local high schoolers that paired up to interview each other, providing an opportunity to connect during an isolating time.


Nathan Charles

Julie Sands, creator of a project that pairs local high school students with members of a senior center, poses for a portrait on Sunday, May 9, 2021.

Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

On a cold day in December, Iowa City West High School freshman Zaira Ahmad opened up her computer, clicked on a Zoom link, and nervously waited to meet her interview partner, a senior with the Iowa City Senior Center.

Ahmad has signed up to be one of 15 Iowa City High School students to participate in GenStories, a new project from the Iowa City Senior Center. Organized by University of Iowa grad student Julie Sands, the project paired older adults with high schoolers, allowing them to interview one another over Zoom.

“While I was working at the center, I came across some information about intergenerational programming,” Sands said. “And I thought, ‘oh it would be cool to hear from older adults.’ And I thought, for the intergenerational part, it would be cool to also have some younger people to interview too.”

Sands, who was able to sit in on several interviews, said getting to listen to the stories shared by both the seniors and the high schoolers was her favorite part of the project.

“It was a real treat to see,” she said. “People were very willing to open up. They opened up and shared their experiences. Some of it isn’t profound or deep and that’s fun to listen to but then some of it is really profound. Learning from them and seeing them making connections was my favorite part.”

For Carla Harrigan, a senior who participated in the project, GenStories was an exciting chance to connect with new people during an isolating time. Harrigan, who moved to Iowa City in the middle of the pandemic, said it has been hard to make new friends.

So, when she learned about the project, she said she was excited at the opportunity to connect.

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“I admire people, especially young people, who would want to do this,” Harrigan said. “I know when I was younger, I just saw people my age as really old. I mean when I was 18, someone who was 30 was old. I would have thought, ‘what could I have in common with them.’ So, I admire their willingness to participate in something like this.”

Despite the age difference between her and her interview partner, Ahmad said it was interesting to find the ways that they could relate to each other’s experiences.

“I felt really comfortable. It was nice that somebody was interested in what I had to say,” Ahmad said. “It’s so cool to get to talk to people who have different experiences than you. Not just because they’re from different generations than you but because they’re from different parts of the world, or they’re a different race, or whatever. It’s interesting hearing different people’s perspectives.”

Although the interviews took place over Zoom, both Harrigan and Ahmad said they would be excited to get to meet their partners in person once it’s safe to do so.

“I would definitely be interested in meeting [my partners] because they were both such interesting young women,” Harrigan said. “It’s like a friendship. You want to, even though you know there’s boundaries, you kind of wonder, ‘oh how are they doing?’ So I think it would be great. Even to just sit and talk for an hour would be fun.”

Sands said she hopes when the pandemic is over the center will be able to hold an event for all the participants to meet in person. In the meantime, she said the senior center will be holding a premiere on Wednesday, May 12 where viewers can watch the interviews and learn more about GenStories.

“I think everybody should try doing something like this because it’s really cool,” Ahmad said. “I hope they continue to do this in the future. If I can do it again in the future I definitely would.”