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How to Stand Up and Show Up for America’s Kids

Encore.org's new Generation to Generation campaign wants you


Next Avenue Blogger
Next Avenue Blogger

Elzora Douglas, 68, says about four years after retiring from working as a St. Louis social worker administrator in 2004, she wanted to “try to give something back” to children. “Many times, children are not responsible for what’s going on around them, but they’re impacted more than anyone else,” says Douglas.

So Douglas signed up to tutor 1st through 3rd graders weekly through OASIS, a national nonprofit educational group for people 50 and older.  She’s been doing it ever since and currently tutors two students every Tuesday — one at a time, 45 minutes each.

“The students have the chance to be accepted where they are academically, without shame, without ridicule and without judging,” says Douglas. “What I get is the reward of seeing them growing and advancing.”

The New Generation to Generation Campaign

Douglas exemplifies what Encore.org, a national nonprofit whose motto is “second acts for the greater good,” hopes to replicate one million times over in its new Generation to Generation campaign.

If you’re hitting the stage of life where you want to do something that matters, the most obvious way is to think of what you can do to help younger people.

— Marci Alboher, Encore.org

The campaign launches today, with 25 partners, including OASIS (which runs the largest intergenerational tutoring/mentoring program in the country), Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and Strive for College. Four partners are piloting what Encore.org calls The Generation to Generation Learning Labs in “intergenerational impact zones” in Boston, Los Angeles, San Jose and Seattle.

Generation2GenerationLogoGeneration to Generation’s five-year goal: getting one million adults over 50 to “help young people thrive” by volunteering and working with needy children. “The central message is mobilizing large numbers of people over 50 to stand up and show up for kids,” says Eunice Lin Nichols, director of the Generation to Generation campaign.

Generation to Generation is a natural for Encore.org, whose founder Marc Freedman helped launch what has become AARP Experience Corps, where older adults tutor at-risk students.

Rather than second acts for the greater good, think of it as overtures for greater kids.

Doing Something That Matters

“In many ways, the idea of taking action to help younger generations is the purest essence of what Encore is about,” says Marci Alboher, Encore.org’s vice president of marketing and communications. “If you’re thinking you’re hitting the stage of life where you want to do something that matters, the most obvious way is to think of what you can do to help younger people and leave a legacy.”

The interest certainly seems to be there.

In Encore.org’s new Generation “War”? survey of 1,510 adults, 80 percent of respondents said “making the world a better place for the next generation is important or very important.” And 77 percent of respondents 60 and older said life after age 60 is a time of mostly “freedom, growth and giving back.”

Having Motivation and Time

The motivation seems to be there. “Research has shown that people who volunteer are healthier, happier and live longer,” says Jeanne Foster, national tutoring manager for OASIS.

And the availability of time not only seems to be there, but is also likely to grow as more boomers retire. Age Wave’s Ken Dychtwald, a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging, forecasts that between 2016 and 2035, retirees will volunteer 58 billion hours. In an Age Wave/Merrill Lynch survey of retirees, 76 percent said helping people in need gives them greater happiness than spending money on themselves.

Nichols thinks the Generation to Generation initiative is especially timely, and not just because one in five children in the U.S. grows up in poverty and half of all public school kids are part of low-income families.

A Timely Campaign

“Many of us are focused on stories of division across the country right now,” says Nichols. “And the heart of the Generation to Generation campaign is about generational unity. Our society works better when everyone is connected and valued, young and old. It feels like the right time to have a campaign focused on human connection.”

Although the Generation to Generation campaign is about connecting with all kids, Nichols says “we think the greatest impact will be focusing on kids who are falling through the cracks or living in particularly challenging situations.”

Mentoring is the campaign’s initial quarterly theme, partly because it can be so effective. As my colleague Chris Farrell recently noted, students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, according to a Big Brothers Big Sisters survey.

Nichols says that “if [the next First Lady] Melania Trump launches an initiative to combat bullying that engages encore-stage adults as part of the solution, Generation to Generation would be eager to participate.” Some of its Learning Lab partners, like Playworks and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, already work with kids on this problem.

How to Join Up

To learn more about Generation to Generation or find a way where you can lend a child a hand, go to Encore.org’s new Generation to Generation site. After signing up, you’ll get the latest related research and information about ways you can help. Volunteer Match has a tool on the site where you can find volunteering opportunities among hundreds of youth-serving organizations in-person or online. In 2017, Encore.org hopes to showcase paid opportunities on the site, too.

Oh, and don’t pass up the chance to assist a youngster just because you’ve never done anything like that before.

Douglas, the OASIS tutor, offers this advice: “Don’t be intimated. As you get more involved, you’ll know what brings a child to life. You don’t have to have a degree to do it. Just a desire to help a child.”

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