Mentoring young people is fantastic and I’d like to tell you about two inspiring organizations I just saw win $50,000 prizes for their ideas to do it: Hire Autism and Critical Bridge.
They’re the first recipients of The Encore Prize: Generation to Generation Challenge, awarded Monday in Boston by Encore.org — a nonprofit dedicated to building a brighter future for future generations.
The prizes recognize the talents of people 50+ who help improve the lives of youth. The Encore Prize announcements followed a live-pitch event from five semi-finalists to an audience of 125 encore leaders from the New England region.
The Encore Prize Winners
Hire Autism, from the Organization for Autism Research in Arlington, Va., won the People’s Choice Prize. It engages encore talent to help young adults on the autism spectrum find jobs that match their skills. Hire Autism took the honor by winning the popular vote from the audience and the five Encore Prize finalists.
Critical Bridge, from the Office of San Jose, Calif. Mayor Sam Liccardo, won the Judge’s Award. Encore.org says Critical Bridge “integrates caring older-adult mentors into the city’s workforce and community-college programs to help youth get on track, discover new opportunities and change the trajectory of their lives.”
Although the two groups won the prizes, Eunice Lin Nichols, campaign director of Generation to Generation (Encore.org’s campaign to mobilize adults 50+ to help young people thrive) said: “The real winners are the millions of kids who will benefit because of the older adults these programs put in their lives.”
The 3 Other Encore Prize Finalists
Three other finalists presented at The Encore Prize live pitch:
- Family Promise, a Summit, N.J., based nonprofit that partners with faith-based and secular groups to provide older financial literacy coaches to needy youth and families, helping them achieve housing stability and financial independence
- Grandmas2Go, a Jacksonville, Ore., initiative from Family Coaches that matches volunteer “grandmas” with vulnerable children and families to help fill gaps in service left by stretched public dollars
- Table Wisdom, a nonprofit based in St. Louis that uses technology to pair people 50+ with new immigrants for conversations that keep older people socially and civically engaged and that support immigrants in improving their lives
So what made these five stand out from a field of 180 submissions representing issues ranging from homelessness to literacy to dealing with medical challenges?
“When I think about what it’s taken for these five finalists to reach this point, the word that comes to mind is ‘rigor,’” said Lester Strong, the former CEO of AARP Experience Corps and an Encore.org board member. “I have extraordinary regard for the hard work these finalists had to go through.”
What Encore.org Asked
Here are some of the questions Encore.org asked when evaluating the ventures — a helpful framework for anyone over 50 thinking about starting a nonprofit initiative:
- Does this venture use encore talent in well-designed roles that have the potential to be used widely to address social problems?
- Does this initiative have the capacity to grow to produce significant change?
- Is there a clear plan for long-range financial sustainability?
- Does this organization have the ability to engage stakeholders and constituents representing diverse communities, especially those in which children are at particularly high risk?
- Does this person or organization have a good track record of clear support from other partners or organizations?
The Encore Prize ‘X Factor’
Ultimately, the final vote to choose the winners came down to a bit of an “X factor” as well. Prior to the live-pitch event, Nichols instructed the audience to vote according to their hearts.
“Just think about which pitch inspired you,” she said. “Whose talk will you be talking about later tonight with family and friends?”
Both of the winning ventures clearly resonated with the audience.
During her presentation for Hire Autism, Naina Chernoff, a mom of an autistic son, talked about how 80 percent of people with autism are underemployed or unemployed two years after graduation. Thanks to their encore mentors, however, more young adults on the autism spectrum are able to find find jobs that match their skills.
Gisela Bushey, director of community engagement for Critical Bridge, emphasized the impact older mentors have on the vulnerable youth in her program. “One out of every four students is at risk of dropping out of high school in San Jose,” Bushey said.
Both women stressed the importance of finding a cause that motivates you on a personal and professional level.
“We all have a story to tell,” said Chernoff. “Whether it’s from our childhood or our current life. Find something that strikes a chord with you.” Bushey added: “Give yourself permission to be truly open, because you might be very surprised where you find those moments of lasting impact.”
How You Can Become a Champion for Youth
Nichols urged more people 50+ to get involved with the Generation-to-Generation movement (to learn more, go to GenerationtoGeneration.org).
“One of our dreams is that every child will have an adult that invests in them,” she said. “These programs aren’t just nice, they are needed. They can change the trajectory of a family for a long time to come.”
Even if you’re not ready to tackle a new mentoring project, Strong told the audience, small steps make a big difference.
“Little kindnesses can mean a lot,” he said. “It creates a contagion of community that gives people a sense of hope about what the future can hold for them.”
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