Monday, July 25, 2011

Bridging the gap: Intergenerational Mentoring

Prior to joining the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community, I worked mostly with youth-serving organizations. One of my current interests is learning about ways to marry the generations in the most impactful way for both. Enter mentoring.


Mentoring is not a new concept, nor is the idea of intergenerational mentoring. As a pop culture reference, think of Professor Charles Xavier, Albus Dumbledore, Mr. Miyagi, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Gandalf. However, recent research has shown just how important mentoring is, not only for youth, but also for the mentors. This seems to be especially true for aging folks who act as mentors.

According to the Indiana Mentoring Partnership, a program of the Indiana Youth Institute that promotes and supports quality mentoring, research has shown that at-risk kids with mentors do better in school and are more likely to resist drugs and alcohol. In addition, mentoring reduces truancy, violence, and youth crime. The Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates that more than 23 million children in the U.S. are in single-parent homes, or without either parent, making a mentoring relationship all the more important.

So how does this connect to the aging population? With lifespan increasing and patterns of retirement changing, many older adults find themselves with time available and a desire to continue to contribute to their community. The Administration on Aging reports that there has been a significant increase in the number of older adults who live alone. In 2005, 32% of all elderly lived alone, which often results in decreased socialization. Given that the size of the older population is projected to double over the next 30 years -- growing to 70 million by 2030 with one in five being 65 or older -- aging adults are in an ideal position to provide the additional support young people need.

So what’s in it for the mentors?

Research from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics and Generations United states that older adults serving as mentors report :
  • feeling they have a more productive lifestyle that contributes to a greater sense of purpose and allows them to feel more connected to their community
  • feeling they contribute to a rich culture, heritage, and understanding of history for their mentees
  • increased socialization as a result of their mentoring activities
  • increased physical activity as a direct result of their mentoring relationship
  • feeling valued by others
  • feeling a greater sense of self worth
With such benefits it would seem natural to promote not only mentoring programs, but other intergenerational programs as well. Supporting programs and policies with implicit intergenerational provisions is an important step in allowing our society to invest in our children through our country’s growing resource of older adults.

If you, or someone you know, are an older adult (or not!) and wish to find a mentoring program with which to become involved, please visit the Indiana Mentoring Partnership or click here to find mentor programs in your state. You might change a child’s life with just one hour a week!

Kristin Huff
Senior Project Director