From training K-9s for the U.S. Army to operating a music store to serving in federal government executive development programs and creating a workshop that became part of the MBA program at Johns Hopkins, Colorado entrepreneur Doug Krug’s social and professional network is vast. At 75, he continues to expand it by forging intergenerational relationships. Most recently, he joined the board of Bessie’s Hope, a Colorado nonprofit that connects at-risk youth with isolated older adults in memory care and nursing homes, creating friendships that resonate on both ends of the aging spectrum.
Senior Planet: So often, millennials, like the young people in Bessie’s Hope, and older adults, especially Baby Boomers, are portrayed as selfish adversaries. Is that accurate?
Doug Krug: I think there are some millennials – and some Gen-Xers, and some Baby Boomers – who are, in a sense, entitled. But they didn’t come up with that by themselves; it was a learned behavior. I think entitlement is a social problem. And the other word that accompanies that problem is the really scary C-word: Complacency. The cancer permeating our society is complacency.
Senior Planet: How does that complacency express itself?
Doug Krug: Right now, too many people live in a place of settling for something they don’t really want, and then complaining about it. Well, if I hear a complaint come up, then I want to look at how to resolve it. If there’s something to complain about, then the current state isn’t getting it done. What’s the outcome we want? And then who do we talk to, what do we do, to get the outcome we want? There are 66 million Baby Boomers, and roughly 90 million millennials. That’s a lot of power that could be leveraged – a lot of brain power that’s not being tapped.
Senior Planet: Are projects like Bessie’s Hope the solution to complacency?
Doug Krug: They’re part of the answer. I’m a mission-oriented individual. When I work with a client, it’s not a gig on the calendar: I’m in it to win it. Hearing some of these troubled kids talk about their past, the life situation they were born into, and then hearing them talk about where they are now because of their relationship with this senior who became their partner – that’s transforming. What an amazing idea it would be to take this nationwide! And hearing the senior talk about the relationship is tremendously powerful. Sixty percent of the people in nursing homes get no visitors. Sixty percent! That’s a staggering number! A couple weeks ago when I was in D.C. – I’m with the leadership institute of the national association of Area Agencies on Aging — I asked if anyone there know of organizations like Bessie’s Hope were in their areas. Only one hand went up.
Senior Planet: That’s stunning.
Doug Krug: I admit that I catch myself sometimes when I see someone aged, who seems confused in a grocery store, or an airport, or shopping mall, and wonder why they’re not doing better. I catch myself! When that happens, I’m aware – but the thought does come up. Just imagine what goes on in other people’s minds!
Senior Planet: How can we change that mindset?
Doug Krug: First, there has to be the intention, and the understanding that there’s a problem. The key to me is to find places where intergenerational relationships are working, and then get the word out about what they’re doing that works.
Senior Planet: For example?
Doug Krug: In March of 2015, I worked with Amanda Cavaleri, who was organizing breakout groups between teenagers and people at a nursing home in Boulder, Colorado. We went through some questions to stimulate conversation, and the results were so rich. And it was a two-way street. I was moving around the groups, listening to conversations, and I heard a question we hadn’t supplied: “Knowing what you know now, what do you wish you’d known earlier?” That was brilliant.
Senior Planet: Why is it important to foster intergenerational relationships?
Doug Krug: The hunger is there for seniors to learn about technology, and the hunger is there for young people to learn from experience. It’s a two-way street. We need to put aside our differences and collaborate in an unprecedented collaboration, instead of competing for funds and jobs. We need to work together.
Senior Planet: Have you seen intergenerational relationships succeed in the marketplace?
Doug Krug: Well, Wal-Mart with their greeter thing. They’re hiring aging people, and giving them a role that works. I’m not a big Wal-Mart fan – I’ve seen too many small towns lose their downtown when Wal-Mart came in – but this is something where Wal-Mart could be a model for other organizations. Hospitality, for example. You would not believe how many times I’ve been in D.C. and asked someone at the front desk to recommend a place to eat or thing to do. And this person, usually a young person, would say, ‘I can give you a list, but I don’t actually know this neighborhood.’ But an older adult who spent his life, or her life, in D.C., would have a million things to say.
Senior Planet: What does ‘aging with attitude’ mean to you?
Doug Krug: It means doing. I’m so sick of think tanks. I’m 75, and I’m still kicking ass. And I wouldn’t trade it for retirement. My mind is working and being totally engaged in doing something. I can’t picture myself playing golf or sitting in front of the TV. My mind has to be working. What do we want, and how can we create that? That’s what we all should be asking.
Want to reach out to millennials? Krug offers these suggestions.
- Leave your bubble: Go to locations and events – DIY workshops for creatives, independent film festivals, a #MeToo or Black Lives Matter march, a live storytelling event sponsored by TED or The Moth — that draw people between 18 and 35.
- Be prepared to initiate the conversation with millennials: Ask about their top concerns – jobs? Housing? Student loans?
- Ask “Would you like to know what I think?” before offering advice.
- Get involved! Attend a meeting of the local Commission on Aging, or Area Agencies on Aging.
- Research progressive organizations, such as the Pioneer Network, or Generations of Hope, to see what thought leaders are advocating.
- Look for intentional intergenerational volunteer opportunities, such as the national Village To Village network that helps neighbors age in place.