Posted on 01/24/2017

Awakenings: The Intergenerational Value of Mentorship

AARP Experience Corps Volunteer Michelle Cherry tutors second grader Envoy Rivas at Blackstone Innovation School in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo credit: Matt Roth

Poet and longtime educator Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

That’s a fitting description of mentoring, too — the act of being “an awakener.” As any good mentor knows, the goal of mentoring is to awaken self-confidence and unlock potential by developing the competence and character of the mentee.

Mentoring inspires children and adults alike, imbuing them with purpose and the sense that they matter. It gives children the guidance and support they need to reawaken dreams that may have withered in low-resource schools or unstable homes. It empowers adults to share their knowledge and skill while reaping the physical and mental health benefits that come from being connected to their community.

Whether a mentoring relationship takes place informally or in a structured setting, all successful mentors share certain attributes:

  • A willingness to listen more than talk
  • Empathy, authenticity, and respect for mentees’ cultures and backgrounds
  • A genuine desire to be involved and make a commitment
  • Consistency and trustworthiness
  • Flexibility and openness
  • The ability to see solutions and guide mentees to see them as well

These attributes abound in AARP Foundation Experience Corps, which for 20 years has matched adults age 50 and older with struggling students in public schools to help them read at grade level.

Research shows that students who don’t read at grade level by fourth grade have a higher dropout rate; young adults who dropped out of school are likelier to experience poverty. And yet, too often, public schools in underserved communities suffer from limited resources and a scarcity of teachers, leaving the youngest students — kindergarteners through third-graders — short of the mark.

By building intergenerational connections, Experience Corps and other mentoring programs not only help students at a critical juncture in their education, they also engage adult volunteers in their communities, putting their wisdom to work while helping youth navigate some of life’s complexities.

Older adults make great mentors because they have the benefit of experience and hindsight, they’ve learned how to solve problems and resolve issues, and they place a high value on building strong bonds. They provide what many children need in their lives: someone to listen, care, offer encouragement, serve as a role model … and celebrate success together.

If you’re looking for a mentoring opportunity that allows you to share your experience, time, skills and commitment — to become an “awakener” — visit the Experience Corps website to find a program location near you, or Create the Good to explore a wide range of volunteer possibilities.

*Updated 05/04/2017

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