At a recent meeting, a usually shy volunteer member brought a note given to her by a student that expressed how much the student loved and would miss her when the school year ends. This note is now proudly hanging on her fridge as a daily reminder of her impact on a child’s life. This is one of many examples of the social connection between generations that is created at Generations Incorporated.
Generations Incorporated is an affiliate of the award-winning, national AARP Experience Corps program. Generations Incorporated recruits, trains and supports hundreds of older adults to serve as literacy volunteers to thousands of students in kindergarten through 3rd grade who are reading below grade level. Their literacy interventions are offered in 16 elementary school settings and after-school programs in Boston and Revere. Volunteer tutors, often from these neighborhoods, are dedicated to improving the lives of these students. The program fosters relationships across generations, enriching the lives of both the older adults and the children with whom they are working.
Generations Incorporated’s program is based on proven results for both students and older adult volunteers. A study conducted by Washington University, showed that students who receive a year of one-on-one tutoring make 60 percent more progress in critical reading skills than their peers who do not participate in the program. The study also found that Generations Incorporated’s volunteers made significant improvements in their health through service participation. Some of the health benefits include decreases in depressive symptoms and in functional limitations. In addition to those measurable results, perhaps the best benefit of all is the amazing relationship that is fostered between the older adult volunteer and student.
And the benefits for the older adult volunteers do not stop with tutoring. In 2010, Generations Incorporated launched its Active Aging program for its volunteers. This initiative was a direct response to the study conducted by Washington University and works to engage older adults in meaningful activities beyond tutoring that enhance the physical, mental and social well-being of people as they age. Mary Gunn, executive director of Generations Incorporated states: “Older adult volunteers are the backbone of our program and it is in our best interest to keep them healthy.”
Generations Incorporated offers 150 activities per year to its volunteers including evidence-based health classes, walking groups, coffee clubs, Zumba Gold classes, yoga classes, book clubs, a monthly Speakers’ Series, and SHINE counseling along with many more. The goal of the program is to support the whole volunteer, to encourage a healthy active lifestyle and to motivate the volunteer to continue serving. The Active Aging program is an additional benefit for all volunteers and provides a forum for social connections and improved physical and mental health activities beyond their service as volunteer tutors. The Active Aging program has already proven to be effective. For one volunteer, the book club has helped build her confidence and self-esteem because of its unique component of reading books out loud. This particular volunteer member suffered a stroke leaving her without the use of her right arm and her speech significantly impacted. She commented that the book group has helped her to build her confidence and practice her speaking in a supportive environment. This is one of the many real-life stories portraying the benefits of this program.
In establishing a social network for its volunteers, Generations Incorporated has found a way to create even more physical health and mental health benefits for its older adult volunteer.
This story was published originally in the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s May 15, 2012 newsletter and updated in November 2013.