GenHERous is an event for women in their 20s to 70s and beyond to share stories about their lives, advice for other generations based on their experiences, and share hopes for the future. The goals of the event are to build connections and create a space for authenticity.
Problems and Purpose
GenHERous 2 was a collaborative and welcoming event for generations of women in Northern Colorado to engage in conversation and connection. The event was the second of its kind since the 2020 COVID pandemic began and presents itself as an opportunity to address some of the social isolation and burnout experienced by women of all ages during these challenging times.
Background History and Context
The first event of this kind was held in Brookline, MA in 2015. It was born out of a conversation among women at the Tufts democracy convention earlier that year. Barbara Simonetti was searching for new and innovative ways to bring women together and held this first event at her house with the intent to build connections across generations of women. The event was extremely successful, with 36 women from their 20s to 70s staying longer than originally anticipated.
The first GenHERous event in Northern Colorado was held in October of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was modeled after the original event described above but was held virtually. It was hoped that the 2022 event could be in person, and the intent of the organizers is to do so next year.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The main organizers of this event were the Partnership for Age Friendly Communities (PAFC) and the Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) at Colorado State University. PAFC was the main funder of the program along with Generation Connect, Horse and Dragon Brewing, Escentuals, Ten Thousand Villages, and Board 30.
PAFC’s interest is in the health and well-being of aging populations in Fort Collins. Generation Connect is a partner in intergenerational work. The CPD “aim[s] to improve the way our community is able to talk through complex issues so that we can arrive at better decisions” (Center for Public Deliberation, 2022).
CPD acted as the primary organizer of planning for this event, holding bi-weekly meetings and managing recruitment and sponsorship asks through their networks. Students from the CPD facilitated the discussions for course credit.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
This event was open to women and those who identify as women in the Northern Colorado region. The CPD and PAFC used their networks to advertise for the event and RSVPs were handled through the Wordpress site.
Methods and Tools Used
Methods used were roundtable discussions and tools/techniques were small-group discussion with dynamic facilitation, based on a set of questions to guide the conversations. The event took place over the Zoom platform using the breakout rooms function.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
There were four main sections to the event:
Greeting and Explanation of the Process:
Introductions were made and Barbara Simonetti was present to give some historical context to the event. The process was explained as well as some technology instructions.
Round One Conversation:
Participants were dispersed into groups loosely based on age ranges by decade. A facilitator was in each group and the questions below were provided to spark conversation. The conversation was free flowing and not contentious; all participants seemed ready to learn from the experiences of their peers. Facilitators helped urge the conversation along if needed and ensured that everyone who wanted to had a chance to speak. The time for this discussion was limited to an hour.
1. What were your biggest goals and dreams when you were little?
2. How did you feel about growing up as a girl? What things were exciting? Did you experience any barriers?
3. When you think of pop culture during your childhood, what were some of your favorite entertainers, movies, songs?
4. What has happened over the course of your life to change the goals and dreams you once had?
5. What female role models have you had in your life? How did they help shape your journey?
Round Two Conversation:
Participants were now dispersed into groups that aimed to provide a participant from each decade present. As with round one, a facilitator was in each group and the questions below were provided to spark conversation. Again, the conversation was free flowing with no agenda and all participants were given a chance to speak and react to each other’s stories. The time for this discussion was also limited to an hour. The questions for this round were:
1. What were some of the surprising or enlightening things you heard in your first conversation today?
2. What do you think has changed for women over time? What has stayed the same?
3. What knowledge, advice, or simple stories can you share with women from other generations?
4. What are some of the biggest challenges to fostering intergenerational connections between women?
5. What are some ways we can continue these intergenerational connections outside of this event?
6. Any closing thoughts or stories?
The last ten minutes of the event brought all participants back into the main “room” on Zoom and information was provided about a contact sheet in Google Docs where participants could put their contact info if they wanted to keep in touch. The sponsors of the event were thanked and it ended on a hopeful note for women to work together and lift each other up at all times.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
From one participant's experience, this initiative achieved its intended results of promoting community for women and encouraging intergenerational conversation as well as a feeling of connectedness (J. Pignataro, personal communication, March 9, 2022). The experience will have affected each person differently based on their individual experiences, and it appeared that most participants felt empowered by the end of the session. The organizers gave the intention that this event would continue – and hopefully in person by 2023.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The online platform worked well and the main contact for GenHERous indicated that there were lessons learned from the previous event in 2020 that were put into place this time with the technology. The event presented the following ground rules: Speak from your own experience; Listen with an open heart; Ensure others have the opportunity for equal time—especially the younger ones!; Share honestly; and Have fun! These ground rules set the tone of the event and participants found them easy enough to follow. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences for future events in Northern Colorado as they transition to in-person.
The younger generations were encouraged to speak up and first if possible; one participant did not notice that this was an issue for the youngest women in her intergenerational group but is unsure if it was an issue for other groups (J. Pignataro, personal communication, March 9, 2022).
The facilitators were undergraduate students of the CPD. They had varying levels of comfort in their positions and while one facilitator let the conversation flow naturally, another exhibited a bit of stress at making sure that all questions were addressed. It might behoove the organizers of the next event to clarify if the questions are meant as conversation starters or if it is necessary to get through them all.
About the Center for Public Deliberation (2022). Center for Public Deliberation. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://cpd.colostate.edu/about-us/
Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University: https://cpd.colostate.edu/
GenHERous 2 event website: https://cpd.colostate.edu/events/genherous-2022/
Partnership for Age Friendly Communities: https://www.pafclarimer.org/pafc