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Fall is a good time to get involved with students, and there are new programs that bring together people of different generations so they can learn valuable lessons from one another. Alexis Abramson is a gerontologist and Today Show contributor. Read her commentary below:
Intergenerational mentoring programs match senior citizen retirees with schoolchildren and youth who need extra attention and will benefit from forging a strong relationship with an older adult. Nationally, intergenerational programs actively bring together younger and older persons in activities that break down the myths and stereotypes that result from societal separation of the generations.
In recent decades, American society has become very segregated by age – children attend age-segregated schools, adults rarely spend time with youth in their work environment, and senior citizens often live in housing with only other older adults. Intergenerational programs around the United States try to break down many of the physical and social barriers between the generations, and provide activities for seniors and youth that offer opportunities for mutually beneficial learning.
Older adults participating in intergenerational programs benefit from new, positive relationships with youth and children in their community. Volunteer work increases a senior’s sense of purpose, which leads to greater self-esteem, often at a time in life when many older adults are depressed or isolated. By spending time tutoring an elementary student or mentoring a young adult, an elder has a chance to transfer their knowledge, skills, and values to the next generation. Intergenerational programs allow a retiree to continue being involved in the community – to give of their time and knowledge in exchange for the personal satisfaction that comes with volunteering.
Children and youth also benefit from increased self-esteem, knowledge and skills. By spending time in a positive relationship with a senior citizen, the younger generation gains a better understanding of the process of aging. They also find older adults to be supportive role models, which leads to an all-around increase in the student’s motivation to learn, and leadership and communication skills.
Professionals and social service agencies find intergenerational volunteer programs a creative and cost-effective way of serving the increasing needs of youth and elders. These programs also allow for increased collaboration with other community organizations.
Intergenerational volunteer programs not only benefit participating seniors, younger people and social service agencies, but they also have positive community-wide impacts:
By working together, students and elders facilitate community collaboration, pooling of resources and cooperative problem-solving All participants learn from and respect each other’s traditions and stories and learn to value and accept diversity Communities gain awareness about issues affecting multiple generations. Programs enhance the ability of both public and private agencies to meet the needs of youth and elders.EXAMPLES OF PROGRAMS IN PLACE
The Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) – This program is part of Senior Corps, a network of national service programs that provide older Americans the opportunity to put their life experiences to work for local communities. Foster Grandparents serve as mentors, tutors, and caregivers for at-risk children and youth with special needs through a variety of community organizations, including schools, hospitals, drug treatment facilities, correctional institutions, and Head Start and day-care centers. In fiscal year 2003 more than 30,000 Foster Grandparents tended to the needs of 275,000 young children and teenagers. - www.seniorcorps.org/joining/fgp/index.html
Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Senior Center - They are located in the Seattle area, they run an intergenerational program called Power of One. Active during the school year, Power of One matches older volunteers with schoolchildren, to provide help in the classroom. Volunteers mentor students, help with studying or reading skills, and work on specific classroom projects. On History Day, senior volunteers who had been involved in World War II answered students’ questions and gave a first hand account of this historic event. Seniors and students are also involved in a computer project, which develops e-mail skills in both generations. http://www.seniorservices.org/sc/shoreline.asp
The Lend-A-Hand Network Mentoring Program – This project was established to provide the youth of our communities with an understanding of and an appreciation for our senior citizen population. They work together with referring agencies to match a student in need with the appropriate senior citizen volunteer. This program helps students to gain a better understanding of historical events and their impact on the citizens of our nation. The students will also gain a better understanding of the struggles of day-to-day living our seniors face with the realization that they will one day be in the senior citizens’ shoes. http://www.pahouse.com/veon/lendahand/mentoring.htm
Email Mentoring - Email mentoring offers students the opportunity to work with a mature adult who has enjoyed the benefits of pursuing and achieving a career. By communicating one-on-one, seniors assist students in developing their very own career portfolio. Sharing the benefits of what they’ve learned as they pursued their careers and collaborating with them on weekly activities is the major focus of this senior mentoring program. There are many rewards when seniors touch the life of a young person and make a difference in their life.www.sccis.org
USC Emeriti Mentor and Mentee Program - The intent of this mentoring project is to provide student participants with an opportunity to establish - early in their academic career - a relationship with an Emeriti (retired) faculty or staff member. The relationship will provide the student with a different perspective on leadership and the issues facing leaders. The parings are loosely chosen according to their mutual academic interests and are introduced at the beginning of the school semester. The senior mentor will meet with students and serve as a role model to them giving them advice on various issues including how to address concerns which will undoubtedly arise throughout the course of the students undergraduate academic career.
To ask additional questions about “Senior Mentoring” (or any issues related to baby boomers or mature adults) feel free to email Alexis Abramson at firstname.lastname@example.org