Aging is a gift—and many who have been blessed with that gift long to share their hard-won wisdom with others.
Of course, the benefits go both ways. According to MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, young adults who were at risk for falling off track but had a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly, and 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions. What’s more, a study published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2009 revealed that by mentoring youth, seniors improved their own cognitive functioning.
And so, in honor of National Mentoring Month, we’re spotlighting intergenerational mentoring programs that have proven beneficial for seniors as well as the youth they serve.
Senior Corps’ Foster Grandparent Program
Through this national service program, volunteers age 55 and over become role models, mentors, and friends to children with exceptional needs. Not only do seniors have the opportunity to help children learn to read and offer one-on-one tutoring, but they can also provide comfort, compassion, and care to troubled teens, children with disabilities, teen moms, premature babies, and children who have been neglected or abused.
Seniors serve between 15 and 40 hours a week, providing support in schools, hospitals, child care centers, drug treatment centers, and correctional institutions. All Foster Grandparents receive accident and liability insurance, monthly training, meals while on duty, and reimbursement for transportation. In addition, those who meet certain income guidelines may receive a small stipend. In 2017, more than 25,000 seniors served more than 189,000 children through this Senior Corps program.
“A lot of the children we work with just need a little help to get to the next step in their development,” says Foster Grandma Mae Mitchell of St. Louis. “This work gives me purpose and a reason to get out of the house. I feel like I am giving back to my community.”
This intergenerational mentoring approach to drug prevention has been proven to prevent, reduce, or delay the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs for children ages 9 to 13. Through the program, adults age 55 and older are trained and matched as mentors to high-risk students in their community, such as those who are economically disadvantaged, students who exhibit problem behavior or failure in school, and those with few positive adult role models. Mentors commit to the relationship for a full school year, spending at least two hours of one-on-one time each week.
“I look forward to seeing [her],” says Donna, a volunteer mentor of a sixth grader in Milford, CT. “It keeps me young. I feel like we’re sharing something important. I’ve even made a photo scrapbook for her with pictures of our times together.”
AARP Foundation Experience Corps
This intergenerational tutoring program has been proven to help children who aren’t reading at grade level become great readers by the end of third grade. With 25 hours of annual training, adults age 50 and older provide 5 to 15 hours of support to students each week throughout the school year. The goal? To disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of vulnerable children. Currently, nearly 2,000 volunteers serve more than 30,000 kindergarten through third grade students each year in high-need elementary schools.
Undoubtedly, the children aren’t the only ones whose lives are enriched through the program.
“During my short time with Experience Corps I’ve felt like my life has meaning,” says volunteer Delores Bell of Baltimore. “I have a reason for getting up in the morning, knowing that I am going to help a child. You cannot imagine the joy that it brings me.”
CHIME IN: What role has mentoring played in your life?