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A grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles to the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology will support an intergenerational art program, Zekenim, designed to discover, illuminate and honor the life stories and wisdom of Los Angeles’ Jewish elders.

Based on a German program, Migrantas, designed to give voice to the experience of migrants, Zekenim will guide Jewish older adults in sharing and sketching pivotal experiences from their life stories. Thematic analysis of elders’ life stories by a research team, led by USC Leonard Davis Assistant Professor and lead project investigator Tara Gruenewald, will serve as the basis for the visual translation of the stories into art created by Jewish teens and young adults.

Zekenim art will be shared with the community through recognition receptions, exhibits, and print and electronic media. Zekenim aims to strengthen connections and understanding between the generations as people of all ages and backgrounds gain new insights into the life experience of older individuals, recognize similarities in their life experiences, or modify their own perspectives.

Zekenim’s trifecta is the ability of the program to illuminate and honor elders’ life experiences, strengthen intergenerational connections, and create an enduring legacy of art that can transmit wisdom across time and culture,” Gruenewald noted. “We look forward to investigating the benefits of participation in the Zekenim program for our elder, teen and young adult participants, and for the community as a whole.”

Gruenewald’s research has found that elders engaging in activities they feel are meaningful and beneficial to others promotes better mental and physical wellbeing in later life, including increased longevity. Additional research indicates that teenagers and young adults who contribute to others by sharing their elders’ stories may also promote their own mental well-being in the process.

The Zekenim program will be supported by a three-year, $250,000, Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles to the USC Leonard Davis School. The Foundation’s Cutting Edge Grants encourage creative thinkers, social entrepreneurs and innovative organizations to propose significant and transformative programs of high visibility and impact to address important needs in the Los Angeles Jewish community.

“We are delighted to support this innovative community program, which bridges together generations through storytelling, art and creativity,” said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.

Pinchas Cohen, Dean of the USC Leonard Davis School, identifies the grant award as a critical achievement in the advancement of the school’s Creativity and Aging Initiative.

“The Foundation’s support will allow us to continue our efforts to identify best practices for creative engagement to promote optimal aging and support creative aging activities in Los Angeles,” Cohen said. “We are particularly excited that the Cutting Edge Grant from The Foundation will serve to strengthen our partnerships with community organizations serving Jewish seniors, schools, synagogues and other cultural institutions and build a foundation for continued collaboration.”

The grant will support dozens of discussion workshops and linked recognition receptions and exhibits over the next three years. The award will also support the development of a toolkit to guide other organizations in future implementations of the program with culturally and ethnically diverse populations.

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