Editor’s note: This article is part of Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencers in Aging project honoring 50 people changing how we age and think about aging. Here, Tobey Dichter, one of the Influencers, blogs about the future she’d like to see for aging in America.
If I could change the world, it would look like this someday….
On a crisp November morning, an 82-year old man opens his front door, stretches and walks down to the corner where he knows the 10-year-old boy will give him the large-type newspaper. It’s costly because the students have printed the edition off the Internet that morning, but the man prefers a real paper with his coffee and the library’s teen center has a printer that converts screens into tabloids on newsprint. Worth every cent he pays, he thinks.
Teaching History From Their Own Lives
At 10, the van comes by and picks up the man for work. He’s off to the school a mile away, where today he will hold a discussion about the 1968 convention in Chicago. He was 20 back then, and vividly remembers the chaos. It’s an appropriate topic for this election year.
These elder workers share their expertise with callers asking for advice on everything from algebra homework to needlepoint.
He and the students create a video montage about presidential conventions with original narration from songs and footage they retrieve on the Internet. It’s a skill he’s learning and the kids love helping him. They know that they learn more from his first-person account than from any syllabus.
Hello, It’s the Knowledge Broker
Meanwhile, the van has driven on and brought his neighbor to her job at the Knowledge Broker Office. Resembling a small, friendly call center, the office’s webcams and large screens enable these elder workers to log on and share their expertise with callers asking for advice and guidance on everything from algebra homework to relationships to tax preparation to needlepoint.
The knowledge brokers’ office is funded by the mayor’s Commission on Literacy and callers pay $1 an hour for the expert help. The brokers don’t make a lot, but it’s meaningful work.
At noon, the cooking and nutrition knowledge brokers prepare lunch — many with a younger learning buddy from the school.
Old and Young Share Their Days
And at 4, some of the brokers and other elders get rides to after-school sports practice and games. Others go to meet with their teenage colleagues, where they all share their days. The kids appreciate a good listener and the elders appreciate being needed. There are no latchkey kids in this community.
Best of all, this community is not unusual. It is a model duplicated thousands of times across the country. In these places, age is respected, not degraded; the old teach and learn from the young; working parents are secure knowing that their kids have a huge support system.
Best of all, old age is viewed as a gift, an asset, a delight.