Sages & Seekers’ mission is to develop empathy, combat social isolation and dissolve age-related segregation within our communities, while meeting the universal and compelling need of both young adults and elders to make sense of their lives. This is achieved by creating a sense of intergenerational community in our programs, through the art of authentic conversation.
Why connect these generations?
Many of the issues both teens and older adults deal with are mutual in nature, even though they seem miles apart. Both generations are searching for meaning and relevance; fighting feelings of loneliness, and many of “not fitting in” or being marginalized; and issues around independence, self-determination and currency in the world.
Today, mental health among youth is proving to be an increasing challenge, largely attributed to the pandemic and demonstrated by increased rates of youth suicide, substance abuse and depression. However, prior to 2020, there was already evidence that mental health problems in teens were on the rise. The prevalence of major depressive disorder in U.S. adolescents has increased, and suicide rates have also hit a 10-year high among young people ages 10 to 24, from 6.8 per 100,000 people in 2007 to 10.6 per 100,000 in 2017, according to the CDC.
At the same time, a 2018 national survey reported by the American Psychological Association showed that loneliness levels among older adults have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of participants reporting they sometimes or always feel isolated and that they do not have meaningful relationships. Such numbers are alarming because of the physical and mental health risks associated with loneliness. According to a meta-analysis, a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder.
Sages & Seekers addresses these concerns for two generations at once. We provide both students and seniors an alternative to isolation: a sense of purpose and a connection to the larger picture of society and the world. Sages & Seekers also ﬁlls a gap in local schools, where teachers and administrators focus on A-G requirements and devote little time to promoting communication skills and other foundations of social emotional learning.
Sages & Seekers was created in 2009, when Founder Elly Katz, at that time living in Boston, was inspired to leave her career as a graphic designer to dedicate herself to diminishing ageism. She initiated an afterschool service-learning project at the Noble & Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, and by the following year, four private schools were piloting the program.
In the fall of 2013, the Sages & Seekers program was first presented at the university level, when Brandeis University students were paired with Brandeis Lifelong Learning seniors. By 2014, Sages & Seekers had enrolled more than 1,200 teens and seniors, with many participating two or more times. That same year, Elly moved the Sages & Seekers headquarter to Los Angeles, California.
In its new West Coast location, Sages & Seekers began running programs in the USC Gerontology Department. At the same time, program delivery on the East Coast continued, and The Rivers School in the Boston area elected to make Sages & Seekers a mandatory part of their sophomore English curriculum – a requirement that continues to this day, reaching 180 Sages and students every year.
In late 2014, the S&S Manual was produced, which provides a blueprint for any school, library, senior facility, or university that seeks to offer Sages & Seekers in their community. In 2017, the University of Southern California (USC) conducted a professional impact evaluation of our program through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. This evaluation provided an evidence-based framework and justification for our model that cemented the program as evidence-based.
Today our non-profit reaches across borders virtually, to include participants at public and private facilities from Canada to Colombia, offering multi-cultural and generational connection, to strengthen the bonds of humanity.
WHO WE SERVE
Sages & Seekers has reached over 6000 teens and seniors since its inception. In 2022, we will serve over 1000 students and seniors from our in-person programs, to our online sessions, and licensed programs across the country. Sages & Seekers is based in Los Angeles but our programs reach throughout the world, to countries such as Colombia, Argentina, and Australia.
Our Sages and Seekers are a diverse group of people representing a variety of races, genders and socio-economic backgrounds. 63% of Seekers identify as BIPOC as do 20% of Sages. Overall, 46% of our participants identify as BIPOC.
Elly Katz is the Founder and Executive Director of Sages & Seekers. She gave up her career as a graphic designer to make an attempt at diminishing ageism. She spent countless hours speaking with Senior Center Activity Directors, professors of Gerontology and Educators, to ultimately design a meaningful and profound program. Elly has presented at the MCOA, SCAAP and American Society on Aging conferences, speaking about the need for older adults to connect to a younger generation.
Rachel Shader is our Program Director. After getting her MBA at USC and spending years working in the media industry, Rachel decided to pursue a more meaningful career path in the nonprofit world. She has been a consultant for several different philanthropies, which support women, minorities, and people with disabilities. As a mom of a high schooler (and two other soon-to-be teens), Rachel recognizes how important a program like Sages & Seekers is for this generation.
Patti Catullo is our lead Online Program Facilitator. With a background in coaching people in well-being, Patti has been all over the world studying human behavior. She brings a deep understanding of humanity to our programs, connecting our participants with humor and empathy. Patti lives on the East Coast, enabling our programs to reach across the Atlantic to enroll participants.
Lori Ann Piscioneri, Program Coordinator, is excited to be working with Sages and Seekers. As an opera singer, actress, and co-founder of a film production company, Lori Ann brings her creativity to support healthy connections between people of all ages. Having also worked in the non-profit world, her experience is invaluable for learning to lead teams of people, and encourage them to be authentic, kind and loving. She also teaches singing classes and voice lessons to kids and adults, where she shares her passion for music and the arts.
Krys Grant, our Special Projects Leader, has been working with humanity in many different capacities, to enhance and educate groups of people. In addition to Special Projects, she is “Tech Guru” for our online programs. Working from her heart, Krys shares her creativity in building new Sages & Seekers projects bringing elders and teens together. Her passion is with the non-profit sector, always striving to uplift those around her.
Nancy Walsh, Sage Ambassador Leader, is a retired business development manager with over 35 years in the hospitality industry. She volunteers as a mock interviewer with high school students through programs with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, UniteLA, and Los Angeles Education Partnership. She enrolled as a sage in the fall of 2020 then volunteered as lead facilitator for our Sage Salon. She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, earned just before her 65th birthday and is an active member of Toastmasters International.
Ronna Goldstein, Sage Ambassador Leader, is an Angelino native. She enjoys hiking, movies and meditation. She values tolerance, kindness and open mindedness. Ronna worked in sales management for 40 years in the furnished hospitality industry. She is now semi-retired and is interested in giving back to her community and helping others thrive.
Sally Schliesmann Ph.D., Program Facilitator, is a licensed clinical psychologist who had a private practice in Anchorage AK from 1985-2007. She was an adjunct professor at local universities and was a board member for the local women’s shelter. In 2007, she closed her practice in Anchorage and moved back to California where she provides counseling for active duty military members on U.S. bases overseas. She is very honored and excited to facilitate programs with Sages & Seekers.
Loni Brown, our Sage Liaison, brings enthusiasm, wisdom, knowledge and experience from many years in a business environment. After participating in the first Sages & Seekers program at Pasadena Senior Center in 2017, she continues to recruit Sages, sharing her heart-felt stories and personal experiences of our program. Loni obtained an AS Degree in horticultural science, and an AA degree in Business. After teaching high school kids gardening, Loni realized there is an enormous need for teenagers to be actively listened to, contributing to her commitment to S&S.