Retirement is a season in life when older adults typically have more time to volunteer in their communities. Some connect with an organization related to a favorite hobby, such as a botanical garden or zoo. Others look for opportunities to support youth organizations and projects. It might be by raising money to donate children’s books to an underserved library or by mentoring kids who are struggling to keep up with their peers.
Mentors are often older adults who share their time and talent with the younger generation for an extended period, typically over the course of a school year. These types of intergenerational mentoring programs can make a positive difference in the lives of both generations.
If you are looking for more ways to encourage intergenerational activity at your community center, consider establishing a mentoring program.
4 Benefits of Senior Mentorship Programs
- Prevents ageism: People tend to socialize with others in their own age group. Kids and young adults spend their free time with friends from school, and their parents often develop friendships with other parents. The same holds true for seniors, who are often surrounded by people of similar age. This form of segregation makes it easier for generational stereotypes to develop. By hosting and promoting senior mentorship programs, we help the generations learn to appreciate each other in new ways.
- Reduces loneliness: Older adults may find themselves searching for meaningful activity after retirement. A mentoring program allows seniors to connect with others in productive ways. But older adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from loneliness. Children and young adults may struggle with it, too. This is especially true if they don’t have strong family ties or if grandparents live far away.
- Creates learning opportunities: Intergenerational relationships offer mutual opportunities to learn. Seniors have wisdom that comes from life experience. By joining a mentoring program, they are able to share that with children and young adults. The younger generations, in turn, can provide mentoring to their elders. It could be by helping them learn how to better utilize a tablet device or laptop or by showing them how to connect via platforms like Zoom or FaceTime.
- Builds community: Intergenerational mentoring programs improve the sense of connectedness within communities. They encourage cohesion across generations while also saving taxpayers money. It’s an accomplishment that’s rarely easy to achieve.
If you are thinking about launching a mentoring program at your community center, there are a few things to consider first.
Should You Start a Senior Mentoring Program?
- Call and meet with leadership at local schools to determine the need. Some might have established programs, while others don’t.
- If you find schools looking for senior mentors, discuss how these partnerships would work. Will your community center need to arrange transportation for volunteers to go to the schools, or will your center need to provide space for the program?
- Talk about how senior volunteers will be screened and trained. You’ll need to make sure the experience is a positive one for both the children and older adults.
- Scheduling is another factor to consider. How often will mentors meet with their partners and for how long? Will that be determined on a case-by-case basis or will the schedule be the same for everyone involved?
- Make sure there are clear rules and boundaries for mentors and youth to follow. Are they allowed to spend time together outside of mentoring sessions? Will gifts be prohibited? You might want to consult other mentoring programs in your community for help with what to anticipate and how to establish program rules.
- Think about how you will recruit volunteers and measure their success. These two key components of a mentoring program will likely need ongoing efforts.
Finally, if your community center is new to volunteer recruiting and training, Effective Volunteer Onboarding has tips to help you get community volunteers off to a productive start!