Festival of the Ages

What’s an 88 year-old grandmother doing dressed in teenage “street grunge?” Why is a group of youngsters spending a Saturday afternoon dancing and singing up a storm in a retirement home? Why would a high school football team give up an evening of practice to organize games with senior citizens?

It all boils down to one event — the Festival of the Ages. Held in Victoria during the third week of May (18th-24th this year), the festival is dedicated to strengthening communication between senior citizens and teenagers in their communities. Meetings of the two groups to organize the event generally begin as early as October and continue on a monthly basis until it’s spring festival time again. At these get-togethers, the volunteers brainstorm ideas for fun, interactive programs so that all concerned can participate.

The goal of the festival is to bring young and elderly people together in a pleasant and relaxed environment, breaking down the stereotypical images each generation has of the other. Seniors are often put off by youth fads, such as long hair or body-piercing, while young people often dismiss seniors as grumpy old geezers.

The &t;>Festival of the Ages helps shatter these negative stereotypes, allowing the generations to relate on a personal level. Seniors find that not all kids are troublemakers, and teens realize they have a lot of “cool” things to learn from their more experienced elders.

“Many of the kids haven’t had much contact with older people,” says volunteer co-ordinator Evelyne Reitsma, “and seniors are often intimidated by teens. Once they get to know each other, though, they really enjoy each other’s company.”

In essence, the Festival of the Ages bridges the gap between two very distinct generations.

Events throughout the week include sing-a-longs in retirement homes (even the Armed Forces took part in one concert), skits, games, heritage craft demonstrations, afternoon tea, and the grand finale, a fashion show at Market Square, where everyone struts their stuff down the catwalk.

While the festival started off as a small community event, it soon spread, and now encompasses events scattered all about Victoria. Reitsma suggests that if people are interested in starting their own “generation-bridging” programs in their communities, all it takes is a youth or retirement group to step forward.

“There’s no set method of putting together this kind of festival,” she says. “All it takes is one dedicated group to start something and it will evolve on its own, just as ours did.”

Eighty-eight year-old model Elly Andriessen confirms the significance of the festival.

“It’s important to listen to our young people — they’re our future leaders. They have problems unique to their generation but I tell them to think positively and take one day at a time. And my age group can give hope to younger people.”

And that’s really what this festival of ages is all about — joining together generations that have traditionally been miles apart. And both generations benefit in the end.

For further details of the Festival of the Ages, call Evelyne Reitsma at (250) 381-3431.