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Meet Andrea Fonte Weaver of Bridges Together in Sudbury

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Fonte Weaver.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Andrea. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
While studying gerontology and sociology in college, I learned about the field of intergenerational programming. Inspired by a popular pen-pal program where elders and students wrote to one another, I dreamed of a program where the groups could come together and learn from one another. I wrote the outline for the program and a grant application for funding as part of a business writing class in 1991. With the encouragement of my now-husband, I reached out to my local senior center and they decided to apply for the grant which was expanded and funded. That launched my career in the field and the Bridges Program Curricula Suite (BPCS) has been running ever since. In 2010, I began training teachers and volunteer coordinators to implement the program locally and I took a sabbatical. In 2012, people impacted by Bridges began asking me to spread the program and offering to help. After researching options, I decided to found Bridges Together Inc. (BT) as a tax-exempt organization dedicated to training others to unite generations. Since incorporation, we have trained and supported leaders from 62 BPCS programs across the country. Just about 16,000 older adults and youth have experienced the power of intergenerational programs over the past 25 years. Shortly after founding BT, people began asking me to train them on my methodology. More than 2,500 teachers, senior center staff, librarians and other community leaders have taken advantage of our professional development opportunities to learn why we need intergenerational programs and how to create effective ones.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Through the founding and growing of Bridges Together, I have come to better understand that life – and our career path – is a long and winding journey. I am grateful for the many people I meet along the way – some that are longtime companions, others that travel with us for a short period of time and then return, and still others who appear for a brief, impactful moment. Together, we celebrate the accomplishments and persevere through the struggles. Perhaps our biggest challenge – and opportunity – is helping people to understand what “intergenerational” is all about and why intergenerational programs are not just nice but truly necessary due to many societal and demographic changes. Along with that, people think of “intergenerational” as solely social programming – but it is an approach to uniting different segments of our community in order to creatively solve problems while enriching lives.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Bridges Together empowers communities to implement successful and meaningful intergenerational programs that unite older adults and youth. BT offers award-winning curricula, as well as professional development services for leaders in schools, senior centers, aging services, and other community organizations that are implementing intergenerational programs. BT is known across the country and beyond for our dynamic presentations and comprehensive resources that joyfully combine theory and practice. We are the only organization in the country dedicated to intergenerational professional development. I am proud that the BPCS has been running for more than two decades, has received so many awards and impacted thousands of lives – all from a college term paper!

What were you like growing up?
I’m chuckling now. My grandpa Joe (for whom I have the “J” in my middle name) called me a “rabble rouser.” Rabble rouser is an old word which Merriam-Webster defines as “one that stirs up the masses of the people.” That’s one of the things I love about intergenerational work – it provides elders with the opportunity to recognize gifts in children and help foster them. It also facilitates learning new – or old – vocabulary. Grandpa was right: I was a rabble rouser! And I still am; now, I’m stirring up the masses about the need for intergenerational engagement. As a child, I was often leading the neighborhood gang in things like playing school where I was the teacher. Or I was spending time with homebound elders, like Mrs. Censullo. I enjoyed playing the piano, and leading clubs, especially those with a volunteer aspect. In high school, I earned money running children’s birthday parties, a precursor to planning intergenerational programs. I think the adults who have known me throughout my life would say that I have always been a kind, joyful, inclusive teacher and leader who sees needs or injustices and tries to improve the lives of others.

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