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For centuries, philosophers and poets have written about the wisdom that comes with age.

In recent years science suggests that intergenerational programs may not only deepen wisdom in older adults but serve as a conduit to help young people acquire it. A study — supported by the National Institute on Aging and published in Educational Gerontology in 2009 — on what is now the AARP Foundation Experience Corps program concluded:

Through the practice of mentorship, adults may formulate alternate solutions to children’s questions by drawing from and reflecting on prior knowledge and experience, thus allowing them to consider life’s complexities in deeper, more meaningful ways. For children, providing and modeling skills and reflective ways of thinking may increase the emergence of wisdom later in life. …If wisdom is developed over the life course, it is possible that these early life experiences would assist in developing the qualities of wisdom.

There are many ways that older people can provide critical support to young people and their families. Older adults can offer children and youth tutoring, mentoring, nurturing, or recreational activities. They can also just “be there” for children and youth when families are dealing with a crisis. Involving older adults with younger people can generate greater community support for school and youth programs.

Grantmakers can foster the involvement of older adults in helping young people by supporting programs like these:

Older adults mentoring and tutoring children

CATCH Healthy Habits is a national, evidence-based, intergenerational health program that pairs older adults with school children to teach them healthy eating and physical activity habits for a lifetime. The Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) in Florida, through grants to the Rollins Center for Lifelong Learning, brought the program to three communities in the Winter Park area. In addition to children learning valuable life lessons, 84 percent of older adults volunteering in the CATCH program reported that they had become more physically active, and 83 percent reported that they were eating healthier. The program boasts a very high satisfaction rate among older adults and children.

The Intergenerational Center at Temple University in Philadelphia offers a caregiver and mentor visitation program called Family Friends that connects older adult volunteers from the community with children and families who may be feeling overwhelmed and isolated. The program seeks to decrease caregiver stress and isolation, promote positive youth development, and increase the ability of families to access needed services and resources in the community. The Brookdale Foundation Group in New York City, through its Relatives As Parents Program (RAPP), recently gave the Intergenerational Center a seed grant to provide educational workshops and support groups for families in the Family Friends program.

AARP Foundation Experience Corps has nearly 2,000 highly trained volunteers working in more than 22 cities and serves more than 30,000 students every year in high-need elementary schools. Each Experience Corps site operates one of three tutoring models: one to one; small group; and literacy assistance (where volunteers tutor and help teachers with classroom-wide activities). Studies show that after one year, many students who work as AARP Experience Corps volunteer tutors improve their critical literacy skills as much as 60 percent compared to their peers. And volunteers, who provide an average of 6-15 hours of support each week throughout the school year, showed increased strength and energy. For more information, visit the Experience Corps Research page.

The University of Southern California in Los Angeles received a $170,000, two-year grant from The Eisner Foundation to help launch a Grandfather Reading Buddies program that will recruit retired men and retired police officers to help young boys of color ages 5-9 in South Los Angeles.

The Eisner Foundation, which focuses its grantmaking exclusively on intergenerational programs, also made a $100,000, one-year grant to Reading Partners to recruit and train older adult volunteers to serve as reading partners to more than 700 K-4th grade students across Los Angeles.

Oasis, a non-profit educational organization that is active in 40 cities and reaches more than 50,000 individuals each year, offers an Intergenerational Tutoring program that has been implemented in 20 cities and more than 100 school districts across the U.S. It has won numerous national, state, and local awards for its success in linking struggling students with trained volunteers who are eager to pass on a love of reading. For more information, visit How the tutoring program works.

Older adults advocating for youth

Encore.org created the Generation to Generation campaign, which is working to mobilize one million people age 50 and older to stand up and show up for kids and help change the national conversation about intergenerational relationships in America. Numerous local and national organizations are partnering with Generation to Generation to bring the message to their communities. The Eisner Foundation, for example, made a two-year, $500,000 grant to support the campaign. Generations United’s Seniors4Kids — which worked with state networks of older adults to advocate for public policies that benefit youth from 2005 to 2015 — joined forces with Generation to Generation in 2016.

What to fund

  • Older people as mentors and tutors for students
  • Older adults helping or hosting afterschool and summer activity programs for children
  • Older volunteers who provide respite for families in need
  • Older people sharing skills, culture, crafts, and history with young people
  • Older adults as mentors to young families or teen parents
  • Older volunteers helping with outreach for child immunization programs
  • Older adults helping with advocacy or policy work on children’s issues
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