Meaningful Engagement Across Ages and Cultures

May 31, 2018

By Rey Castuciano, Founder & CEO, Table Wisdom, Inc.

So there I am, waiting to take my dad home from his weekly stroke therapy group, when I recognize someone I know. It’s Mary, one of the first participants in our intergenerational program. At first she didn’t recognize me, but after I reminded her of our program in which we matched her with a young German student trying to learn American culture and improve his English, her face brightened.

She said that she found the program rewarding because while helping him, she also learned the German student’s culture and language during their weekly one-hour visits. Unfortunately she had to quit the program due to a serious ailment and was unable to join again. When I saw her she had recently moved into a skilled nursing facility after a serious fall. She expressed concern about her new living arrangements — she didn’t know anyone where she was living now and the activities offered weren’t engaging or meaningful to her. Through Table Wisdom, I aim to provide an opportunity for people like Mary looking for meaningful engagement as well as fulfill a need I am personally acquainted with, learning regional-specific language and culture.

When I first arrived in this country as a teenager, my barriers included learning English, familiarizing myself with American culture, and navigating the career landscape. My parents were unable to help me advance. Having a mentor who was an American professional would have helped me enormously.

What I didn’t know at the time was there were millions of “limited English proficient” speakers in the United States, just like me. In 2016, the number has increased to 70 million. As a Filipino immigrant I empathize with their challenges. So, what if we could bring these two populations together for meaningful engagement? The pioneering work of Encore.org on mobilizing mature adults for social good inspired me to create a solution to this question.

At Table Wisdom, our mission is to help newer and older Americans thrive. We bring together mature adults (50+) and younger foreign-born people for career mentoring and English-language sessions that explore cultural differences. For the mature adult, this is a fun, easy and low-commitment but high-impact volunteer opportunity to pass down a lifelong acquisition of experiences, wisdom and skills. And for the newcomer like myself, it’s about having a personal coach, learning the new language and culture to help realize their potential and be a more productive member of our society sooner. And the big plus: with video-chat, participants can engage and have impact virtually anywhere. This is important, especially for mature adults, since mobility, transportation, and accessibility can become a challenge later in life. Interestingly, immigrants often struggle with similar issues, becoming isolated in language and culture enclaves that exclude them from opportunities.

From our humble beginnings in 2015 with two pairs of mentor-mentees, we now have impacted over 90 pairs of individuals. Our next goal is to increase the mentor-mentee pairs to 1,000. It’s no secret that meaningful engagement is key to our emotional and physical well-being. No matter what stage in life, your background or age, you’ll always bring something to the table that is of value. In our hyper-connected world, we can choose to use technology to bridge meaningful conversations anywhere. And that’s what we do at Table Wisdom.

To learn about Table Wisdom and opportunities to participate as a student or a mentor, visit their website at https://www.table-wisdom.org/.


This post is part of the “Older Adults & Aging” series of the Institute for Public Health’s blog. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive notifications about our latest blog posts.

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