‘Connections are magic.’ Old and young unite at Gig Harbor InterGenFest

Gig Harbor High sophomore Allison Townsend helps Sonya Becker of Peninsula Independent Retirement Living understand the workings of voicemail on her iPhone.
Gig Harbor High sophomore Allison Townsend helps Sonya Becker of Peninsula Independent Retirement Living understand the workings of voicemail on her iPhone. Contributing writer

The last Saturday in March was busy.

The morning and afternoon found the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor North staging its InterGenFest, which “paired great potential with great experience,” with 52 participants at the Gig Harbor Boys and Girls Club.

That evening the Key Peninsula Lions sponsored their 35th annual KP Citizens of the Year Awards event in the KP Civic Center in Vaughn. I had the pleasure of being involved with both important events.

InterGenFest is designed to engage seniors and youth. Several of the seniors participating subsequently were involved in the quest for a new Senior Center facility (Gateway, May 9, 2019).

The InterGenFest idea was initiated by Kathi Melendez whose husband, Louis, helped foster the idea and create the event.

The two Rotarians and two Interactors from the Gig Harbor High School Interact Club — Kali Woodward, the current president of the GHHS Interact Club and Maria Pawlowski, a freshman who joined Interact Club this year — helped plan the event. The two girls, “were eager to plan and excited to hold the event,” they said.

Kathi Melendez explained it was an exchange of activities between seniors and youth, including “Meet and Greet” between youth and seniors, sessions on interviewing skills for youth, smartphone technology for seniors, mental health awareness and a watercolor session for both groups. Students from the Interact clubs at all three high schools in Gig Harbor participated in the planning of this event.

InterGenFest was created with the intention of building bridges between generations, our lively youth and senior citizens, said Woodward.

“We began by creating a ‘speed meeting’ activity in which a senior and youth were paired to have open discussion of their lives. This allowed two generations to learn more about each other,” Woodward said. “The activity was amazing to witness and participate in.”

Kathy Kuhn, wife of Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn, was “very impressed with the youth engagement and the youth we have in general. They are all so bright and smart!”

“The speed meeting activity was the beginning of creating bonds and starting the day of fun activities,” added Woodward. “Following speed meeting, seniors received helpful tips about smartphones while youth learned how to present and advocate for themselves at job interviews.

“Many people were present, engaged and learned from the other generation. The highlight of this day was watching friendships form as the two different age groups conversed about their life experiences and plans for the future.”

“It was so much fun to be a part of!” declared Pawlowski. “I’m really grateful to be a part of something that brought people together and helped them learn new things.”

Said Cheryl Anne Cristello, “I chose to participate in InterGenFest in part because my experience as a young person was fraught with many significant problems. Not only did I survive but, ultimately, I thrived. I am old. I’m not dead. When I was young, I knew not a single ‘old’ person.

“I love young people. My children left home some 35 years ago. I believe that I have life experiences and insights, some of which may be of benefit to young people. As a former professional engineer and construction manager, I have 40 years of experience. Some of my experiences and what I’ve learned, if shared, just might be helpful to others. Develop self confidence. Believe in yourself always. Follow your passions as you move into adulthood. Live authentically. Knowledge is power. I met so many wonderful youth. They give me hope for our country and the world, something I have been lacking in recent years.”

The Boys and Girls Club donated its facility and local businesses Panera Bread, Cutters Point Coffee, Safeway and Costco contributed to the food and beverages. Hands on Art provided watercolor supplies, and Jeffrey Waters, editor of Northwest Watercolor Society, donated his time to teach the watercolor classes.

The idea for the event was inspired by research on the subject of intergenerational activities, in particular the “Intergenerational Activities Sourcebook” by Penn State, which starts with the quote: “Intergenerational connections are magic.” Planning started in September 2018.

Student Samantha Swayzye said, “We need this event for Gig Harbor to unite. Kids are realizing at this event that connection can be ageless.”

Charlotte Callella from Peninsula Retirement Living noted that its members “do things for the community like taking cookies to the firefighters.” She attended InterGenFest to get help from young knowledgeable students on how to use her smartphone.

Why didn’t I do that?

For more information, contact Kathleen Melendez, Rotary Club of Gig Harbor North, at 406-249-1988 or