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Generation to Generation: Older Adults Making a Difference in the Lives of Young People

Generation to Generation: Older Adults Making a Difference in the Lives of Young People

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Extra time spent with caring adults can help children meet and overcome the challenges they face.

En español | When we think about leaving a legacy, high on the wish list is to bequeath to the next generation an even better world than the one we inherited.

For the first time in recent memory, many American adults fear that won’t be possible. They’re worried that the next generation will wind up faring worse than their parents.

They have reason to be concerned.


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Families continue to struggle, despite an economic recovery. Nearly a third of children are living in families where no parent has full-time employment, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count. Half of all children in our public schools are part of low-income families, typically starting kindergarten far behind their more affluent peers. Even when parents are working full time, wages and benefits are often not sufficient to support a family adequately.

How can we fortify children to help them get a stronger grip on a better life?

Part of the answer lies in utilizing a natural resource this nation has in abundance: older adults.

We know that extra time spent with caring adults can help children meet and overcome the challenges they face. Children and youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to skip school, according to an impact study of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

We’ve seen firsthand how successful the joining of generations can be with AARP Foundation Experience Corps — a tutoring program that brings older adult volunteers together with kindergarten-to-third-grade children to help them read at grade level. Students who worked with Experience Corps volunteers for a single school year saw more than 60 percent greater gains in literacy skills than those who didn’t participate.

The creative minds at Encore.org looked at the intergenerational model and came up with a plan: Mobilize huge numbers of older adults to devote their time, talent and experience to improve the lives of young people.

Generation to Generation is a five-year campaign to mobilize 1 million people over 50 to help young people thrive.

Powered by Encore.org, with support from a coalition including AARP, this campaign will highlight opportunities for older adults to make a difference in the lives of young people, support innovative pilot programs, and spread the word through inspirational stories and promising results.

The campaign began Nov. 17 with the launch of a website, www.generationtogeneration.org, where individuals can search for opportunities to find roles with youth-serving organizations.

This is a match made in heaven. Schools and youth-serving organizations are often stretched for resources, and they need experienced people to work with kids. And research tells us that 32 million adults 50-plus are eager to dedicate their time and energy to work across the generations.

The benefits of intergenerational engagement go both ways. In addition to giving young people a boost, older adults have the opportunity to remain productive and engaged in the community — something they say they want. Increasing interaction with young people can prevent isolation and help keep older minds active. And older adults who volunteer live longer, in better physical and mental health than their non-volunteering counterparts.

Everybody wins. And we make the world a better place for our children to inherit.

Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP.

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