Time To Mentor Up

We represent the largest youth organization and the largest organization of Americans over 50 in the country. Our respective members, who include more than 43 million Americans, are at two ends of the generational spectrum, but we believe there is a real opportunity for us to come together and find new ways for us to connect and help each other address unprecedented circumstances.

The need is real -- many Americans over 50 continue to struggle. According to research commissioned by AARP Foundation, 32 percent of Americans aged 50 and older struggle with hunger, housing, isolation, or income. That amounts to almost 32 million people. Americans over 50 -- especially among the 50 to 64 age group -- face distinct obstacles and crises to navigate. The problems of those over 50 who are "working and struggling" are particularly acute. Only 25 percent of these respondents said they have enough money for six months of household expenses if they should lose their jobs. Sixty one percent agree that they are living paycheck to paycheck. Yet, just 15 percent of these older Americans had access to job training so they could stay current with up-to-date skills.

When we look at the older and younger generations, we see opportunities for the two generations to reach out, learn from each other, and discover new ways to connect and improve their respective life chances. These older Americans can benefit from the passion and commitment 4-H members have for community service. What began more than 100 years ago as a way to bring new agricultural technologies to youth and their families, is now the largest youth organization in the U.S. with 6.3 million members working to transform their communities. 4-H has a longstanding tradition of community service and our members are active in innovative ways in every county in the country.

Their passion for community service is at the center of our partnership. A new idea we're calling Mentor Up, created by AARP Foundation to provide opportunities for young people to transform the lives of Americans over 50. Our goal is to create reverse mentoring opportunities that result in the establishment of an intergenerational service track that is as desirable and rewarding as any other volunteering or act of service a young person may pursue in his or her community.

We're beginning with an obvious need by providing technology literacy and workplace training for Americans over 50. We're starting with the Tech Wizards 4-H program, started by a group of teen 4-H members who identified the need for technology literacy in their Oregon community. The program will be expanding to Georgia, Mississippi and Texas where 4-H members will provide technology and workplace training to help Americans 50 and over secure the skills they need to find jobs in America's data-driven economy. We expect to train nearly 1,000 eligible adults in the first three years.

Mentor Up is also designed to serve as a resource for young people outside of 4-H who are now being asked to pursue community service as it expands as a requirement in communities across the country. For example in Atlanta, all public high school students are required to perform 75 hours of community service before graduation, and Maryland is the first state to pass legislation that requires all students across the state to complete 75 hours of service prior to graduation. In Maryland alone this community service requirement could equal the creation of a pool of approximately 18,340,500 man hours available to transform communities.

In our work together, we have been humbled by the many examples we've found where young people are already working with older Americans -- leading in service not just through technology literacy, but through meal preparation and delivery, digital archiving and storytelling, and caregiving and companionship. It is through these individuals and other organizations committed to intergenerational understanding that we can create social service initiatives of scale that connect and benefit young and old -- and bring generations together.

Young people are searching for ways to meet their community service requirement and Americans over 50 are in need of assistance. In this tough economic climate, we see this growing community service requirement, coupled with young people's desire to make a difference, as a catalyst for new ideas that connect young people with older Americans to get them the help they need.

Jo Ann Jenkins COO, AARP and President, AARP Foundation
Jennifer Sirangelo Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer National 4-H Council

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

7 Ways To Volunteer Over 50