Monday, February 27, 2017

Intergenerational Connections as the New Norm.

"We want every youth-serving organization in cities across the country to actively seek out older workers and volunteers, and to stand with us as we create a new societal norm for intergenerational collaboration." - Sarah McKinney, Communications Director, Generation to Generation

Photos: Ed Kashi (top left, bottom right); Woodwalk (top right, bottom left).

Entering my 50s, I have been thinking more about what I can do to help future generations. I'm noticing that this desire for generativity is common among friends who are also in mid-life, as we now have life experiences and useful skills to share with young people. Needless to say, I am thrilled to feature an interview with Sarah McKinney, Communications Director for Encore.org's Generation to Generation, a campaign that fosters intergenerational connections with the aim of helping the Youth. Sarah explains the campaign in greater detail, and now I'm feeling fired up! I'm sure you will be too!

What is the Generation to Generation campaign?
Generation to Generation (Gen2Gen) is Encore.org’s 5-year campaign to mobilize the over-50 population to fight inequality in the next generation, by “standing up and showing up” for young people -- particularly those growing up against the odds. Through our large and growing network of wonderful partner organizations and communities, Gen2Gen will shine a light on the transformative intergenerational work currently being done, share best practices to encourage increased participation, and pursue thought-leadership and media activities that work to normalize youth-focused service in later life. 

How did this idea come about?
In many ways, Gen2Gen is a return to Encore.org’s roots. Back in 1995 Marc Freedman, Encore.org’s founder and CEO, worked with others to launch what is now AARP Experience Corps -- a program designed to engage people over 50 as tutors and mentors in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and lowest-performing elementary schools. Freedman still often refers to Encore.org as a mentoring organization in the guise of an aging organization! 

Over the past two decades we’ve launched several other innovative programs, such as Encore Fellowships and The Purpose Prize, engaged in a lot of storytelling and research, and hosted several convenings to bring “encore career” enthusiasts together. Gen2Gen is an attempt to channel this community of wise adults to one specific social issue -- vulnerable children and youth -- and, in the process, demonstrate the unique power this (growing) segment of the population holds to solve other significant social problems. 

"...people are genuinely excited about this idea, of matching this growing population of older adults to children and youth who need extra support, and see it as a no-brainer." - Sarah


What are the main goals that you hope to accomplish with this campaign?
There are so many people in mid-life and beyond who are already doing the work we’re advocating, whether it be helping to raise their grandkids, nieces or nephews, volunteering at their local community center or church, or raising their hand to get involved at a youth-serving nonprofit whose mission speaks to them. We want to connect with these individuals and let them know they’re part of something big, powerful, and important. We want to reach a huge number of new people, inspire them to connect with kids (age 0-24) who need support, and have them identify with the Gen2Gen campaign. We want every youth-serving organization in cities across the country to actively seek out older workers and volunteers, and to stand with us as we create a new societal norm for intergenerational collaboration. While the media continues to focus on how divided our country is, we want Gen2Gen to be a bridge that connects people across age, race, background and social class for the benefit of all. 

What excites you the most about the Gen2Gen campaign?
I was originally drawn to Encore.org because I related to the idea of making a career change, and using your collective experience for good. After spending over a decade in market research, I went back to graduate school and received my MBA from a program called Presidio Graduate School -- which is about how business can become a force for good. I was exposed to the movement of young people seeking purpose-driven careers, and simultaneously became aware of Encore.org and the “encore career” movement. Finding ways to connect these generations is what my initial role at Encore.org was focused on. Outside of work, the social issue I’m most passionate about is addiction and recovery. So personal transformation -- and helping people reach their potential -- is the common current running through my life, and the thing that motivates me to do what I do.

The opportunity to work on the Gen2Gen team came about right as I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. It’s incredible how becoming a parent shifts your perspective! I feel very personally invested in creating a better future for future generations, and doing what I can to give every child the chance to thrive. I’ve also been on both the giving and receiving end of mentorship, which is a big part of the Gen2Gen campaign, and have always loved spending time with people who are much younger and older than me. So working on this campaign and helping it reach more people is a “fit” on many levels.


Photo: Ed Kashi
Are there any unique challenges to making this happen?
This is a big goal! We know many people are feeling particularly inspired to take action right now. Our partner VolunteerMatch recently reported record-breaking traffic, with over 500k people seeking volunteer opportunities within a single week! But making clear the urgency of intergenerational work when there are so many other social issues that feel urgent right now -- that can be a challenge. It’s not a particularly unique challenge, however, as every organization is competing for people’s attention. And whenever we do describe what we’re up to with Gen2Gen we don’t experience resistance -- people are genuinely excited about this idea, of matching this growing population of older adults to children and youth who need extra support, and see it as a no-brainer.

Do you have an interesting Gen2Gen success story? 
We launched in November and it tends to take a little time to go through the screening process at youth-serving organizations (all are required to do background checks) and then develop a meaningful relationship with a child, but we currently have some great stories of older adults doing youth-focused work in our story bank and would LOVE to hear more, if any of your readers want to share theirs

One cool thing to report is that during the month of January we focused on encouraging people to explore opportunities through MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, and it resulted in our being their third highest source of referral traffic, just behind LinkedIn and Serve.gov. We’re excited to offer this value to other partners in the months and years ahead. 

What are some small action steps each person, such as myself, can take to contribute to this movement?
First off, you can make sure you’ve joined the campaign! Just visit our homepage and enter your email into the pop-up box. If you don’t see that, click the “Count me in” button for it to appear. Next up, join us on social media. We recently created a Gen2Gen Facebook group where we want to cultivate a strong sense of community -- request to join and once you’re approved, introduce yourself to the group, explaining what interests you about bringing generations together! Encore.org has an active Facebook page and Twitter handle, where we’re often posting about the campaign. Or if you’re more of a LinkedIn person, Encore.org has a LinkedIn group where you can post and read stories of interest. Last but not least, explore volunteer and DIY ideas

Is there anything else you would like to add?
We’re currently in the process of developing a strategy to engage “champions” -- those who want to recruit others to join the campaign and spread the message within their communities. If you’re reading this and that’s of interest to you, we’d love to hear from you. Please email getinvolved@generationtogeneration.org and use the subject line “Koko’s Blog” so we know what the message is in reference to. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Advice to my 20-Year-Old Self.

“When the cake is passed, take a piece.” - Mary, age 84 

Our 20 Year Old Selves. Top: Linda, Jim, Mary (with her mom).
Bottom: Aanchal, Phu, Lisa, and Koko.
























Since turning 50 last summer, I've been thinking about life lessons I've learned from my twenties through the present. What have I really learned? As if on cue, a recent article touched up on what older women wish they could tell their younger selves. The question posted on a Reddit forum asked, "So if you could give your 20-year-old-self some advice, what would you say?" Rachel Hoise, the author, expressed some disappointment when it was revealed that the most common advice centered on either losing weight or not gaining weight. While I know concerns with weight are not unusual, I too was surprised by this popular advice. Therefore, I became curious about what advice friends might give to their 20-year-old selves, and below are their answers (I've also included my answer):

Aanchal, 35
No matter how busy life gets, take the time to engage in an act of service every once in awhile. Touch another person's soul with your kindness. It'll make you happier, too!

Phu, 43
Listen to your heart and pursue hobbies you're interested in. Make great friends and don't lose touch (Think quality, not quantity). Find a good mentor. Buy your house early as an investment. Explore the world. Take any opportunity to make your life better. Overcome your fears. Always believe that all your goals and dreams are possible.

Koko, 50
Find your voice and learn to listen to it as you navigate yourself through life. Be true to who you are and don't delegate another to be the expert of YOUR life, because only you can know what would make you happy and fulfilled.

Linda, 52
The advice I would give to my 20 year old self would be to remember that your credit scores are important and any negative impact on them could affect important things like securing a loan, renting an apartment, buying a car or a house.

Lisa, 52

If I could give my somewhat clueless 20-year old self some advice, it would be to not get so caught up in the expectations that I had for myself and live life with an open heart. 

Todd, 53
Follow the guidance of a mentor you respect. Keep your body and mind healthy. Respect and abide by the law.Treat people how you want to be treated. Respect yourself and others. Always ask if you can help other people. Do things the best you can.

Jim, 64
The advice I would offer my younger self is Mary Oliver's counsel in her classic poem "The Journey" which ends: 

...But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The reason this poem resonates so deeply is that I had a difficult relationship with my parents. I felt caught between wanting to please them and trying to be true to myself. I didn't even know who I was, or how to find out. I knew I was different -- from them in many ways, and from others -- especially after I acknowledged my identity as a gay man. I was looking for love ("in all the wrong places" as the song goes) not realizing that what I was seeking wasn't to be found in the world, but within. Now, at age 64, after years of challenging and rewarding therapy, I am much happier and healthier than I was in my twenties. I wish I could communicate with my younger self and explain that (I hate that campaign) "it gets better" by taking responsibility for the one thing you can change, your own life.

Sheila, 78
If you have saved enough money from your summer jobs, plus selling blouses at Bloomingdales' during the holidays, think about putting off college for a year, and instead, take a 'Gap Year', and travel abroad. Try to find a group of like-minded people to travel with part of the time.

Be mindful of your health:  cut out the sugar completely (may take some time), and exercise every day -- ok, 6 days a week -- doing something you like: eg, biking, gym, dancing,skiing, etc. Get fresh air every day (a walk is refreshing). Be kind and respectful to others (including your parents), and to yourself. Laugh a lot.

Mary, 84
When I was a sophomore  in college, my aunt and uncle were going for a one week’s vacation in Jamaica and invited me to go with them. I was very tempted but it would mean missing school: classes scheduled, papers due, tests given. 

I told my mother of my dilemma. She looked at me and said:
“When the cake is passed, take a piece.”
‘Nuff said.

As you can see, there is wide variety in the types of advice friends have shared. In reality, our 20-year-old selves may not listen to the advice of our older selves. Nevertheless, self-reflecting on our advice can be helpful in revealing how much we've grown! Turning the same question to you, dear readers, what advice would you give your 20-year-old selves?