Helping seniors realize their genius

Smart people learn from experiences. Wise people learn from the experience of others.

By: Juan C. Niño, Head of Content

Are older adult’s geniuses? According to Dr. Virgil Wood, a former lieutenant to Dr. Martin Luther King, people who reach elderhood can be considered geniuses based on what they have encountered and endured through the years.

“Maybe they haven’t processed it, but they have wisdom locked up inside and it won’t manifest itself until the right questions are asked,” offers Dr. Wood. By helping older adults understand the value of their own experience, their wisdom can then be passed on to younger generations.

Dr. Wood is on a mission to help seniors realize their genius and he’s joined forces with our Senior Services Division to make that happen.

Growing older should be something to look forward to – a time to be connected, get involved and explore new interests. To that end, we’re designing an intergenerational poetry program with the guidance of Dr. Wood. The pilot program called “Excavating Wisdom and Reframing Narratives” consists of poetry workshops where paired seniors and young kids will share their experiences and learn how to capture them through poetry.

Ultimately the goal is to give seniors a renewed sense of purpose and connection. By sharing their life journey with youth, they are helping younger generations prepare for the future with valuable life lessons.

“The wisdom of the old is how they have not only survived, but helped others thrive. It’s a proven wisdom,” explains Dr. Wood. “The young people have wisdom potentiality. It’s dormant, but it’s there and it won’t blossom until these intergenerational conversations take place.”

Through poetry the group will build enough confidence to share their experiences and find ways to cope with life’s challenges. The program – set to launch in late summer – will end with an event showcasing the work of seniors and students.

“It’s really a privilege to do this work,” adds Dr. Wood, now 86 years old. “By the end of August we look to have created a workable model to this program.”

He explains that by doing this, seniors are developing their legacy and leaving valuable lessons that will help younger people thrive and so on. This is all part of a nationwide initiative by The Alliance called The Second Acts Strong Communities program. Their mission is to help its network of human-serving organizations leverage the time and expertise of older adults. BakerRipley was selected as one of ten demonstration sites in the country that will be piloting the program. Each site will have a grant-funded fellow like Dr. Wood to provide leadership and guidance on the project.

Guided by the teachings of Dr. King

Dr. Wood worked with Martin Luther King for 10 years and was part of his national executive board.

“Next year will be 50 years since Martin Luther King left us, but he still doesn’t have a legacy,” explains Dr. Wood. The reason, he says, is that we have yet to accomplish what he died for.

“Until we do, there is no Martin Luther King legacy. We can erect buildings and statues, but he explicitly said for people not to memorialize him in brick and mortar, but instead use that money to fix broken communities.”

That has been his mission for years. He has committed much of his life’s work to the struggle for economic and spiritual development among the nation’s disadvantaged. A church leader, educator and civil rights activist he also developed PHD program around Dr. King’s teachings.