There are many benefits to mentoring especially for older retired adults. At WITS we’re lucky to work with over 1500 volunteers of different ages, backgrounds and life experiences. From partners in law firms for Workplace Mentoring to brewers from Revolution Brewing for Mid-Day Mentoring; WITS believes that every mentor provides a unique perspective on life, learning and, most importantly, reading.
The benefits of mentoring are especially relevant for older retired adults who have the time, energy and interest in connecting with younger generations. The “untapped resource” of older people as mentors is the focus of a recent New York Times column, “Want to Leave a Legacy? Be a Mentor.” As life expectancy increases, so does the need for retired adults to engage with society in more significant ways. As the article ponders, “Do they all want to spend those ‘golden years’ watching TV, playing cards or golf, reading or traveling? Or might some prefer a more productive and meaningful old age, one that could enrich them physically, mentally and socially, and in some cases economically?”
A legacy of engaging older adults
WITS has understood the value of engaging older adults in mentoring since the early years, in fact, it’s infused with the founding of the organization. Joanne Alter and Marion Stone were retired at the time of their first volunteer effort at Byrd Elementary, and the first WITS volunteer corps were made up of their network of friends. Stone and Alter, in their “golden years,” created a volunteer movement in Chicago.
Today, thanks to connections of founding volunteers and board members, WITS is partners with two retirement communities in Chicago – The Clare and Brookdale Senior Living. Twenty-five residents, between the two facilities, volunteer as mentors in WITS Kindergarten programs. The mentors read once week with the same kindergarten students over the course of the school year. The students, whom attend schools with high low-income population, receive one-on-one reading support, exposure to new and interesting books, and the time of dedicated mentors interested in getting to know them. The older adult mentors, in turn, get enriching experiences with young readers.
Lori Griffin, director of resident experience at The Clare, says, “it is vital to remain active and engaged as one ages. Part of living a life of optimal well-being includes connecting to a greater purpose or giving back in a meaningful way. Volunteering with WITS gives residents a sense of community and purpose within Chicago.”
WITS provides opportunities for older adults to create a legacy focused on the next generation. As Marc Freedman, author and co-founder of Experience Corps, a national volunteering program with AARP, says, “the real fountain of youth is the fountain with youth.”
WITS’ focuses on driving two measurable literacy outcomes: improving reading level growth and attitudes toward reading.
Over the past 3 years, 68% of WITS students surpassed the national average for annual reading level growth
Over the past 3 years, 65% of WITS students reported an improvement in overall attitude toward reading and reading behaviors (i.e. reading out loud, reading during a test, reading to learn, etc.)