Illinois, a state that uses an abundance of corn to produce fuel, largely is ignoring a growing resource that could improve the lives of all its citizens - older Americans, two area educators say.
Fewer than 7 percent of the 2 million Illinoisans older than 60 volunteer in the schools, according to study by Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Yet more than 68 percent of them said they would volunteer if asked.
The message is simple: "The generations need one another; they need to stay connected," said Jane Angelis, director of the Intergenerational Initiative at SIUC School of Law.
Angelis and Robert Mees, president of John A. Logan College in Carterville, have spent more than a year on a statewide project, Generations Serving Generations, designed to utilize older Illinoisans to mentor students and volunteer with community agencies.
Every day, 253 Illinois students drop out of school, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. Using older volunteers promises a win-win situation. Studies have shown that at-risk children dramatically increased their reading skills when they were tutored by older adults; the elders also experienced positive health benefits through volunteering, Angelis noted.
Last December, Gov. Pat Quinn launched the Year of the Engaged Older Adult with the theme of Generations Serving Generations. The Illinois Department on Aging, State Board of Education and other agencies are on board, along with representatives of schools from throughout the state.
Mees said the group hosted a summit in September at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, pulling together representatives of education, businesses, government agencies and organization like AARP. "We focused first on building an infrastructure," he said.
A series of local discussions is scheduled statewide, with sessions set at several community colleges, with all interested parties invited to share ideas and give examples of how they are encouraging interaction between the generations. They hope participants can learn from each other how to successfully use older people as volunteers.
John A. Logan College is in a pilot program, working actively with high schools, even middle schools, to better prepare students for college work. "We're trying to reduce the number of remedial classes kids have to take at the colleges," Mees said, because students don't receive credit for them and they are a drain on the colleges' resources.
"It's a huge problem," he said, saying 60 percent of community college students and 40 percent of university students need at least one remedial class. He believes more mentors for younger students could prepare them to enter college ready to successfully complete college-level coursework.
The goals of Generations Serving Generations include increased graduation rates in schools, promoting more healthy lifestyles for all ages, and utilizing the older volunteers to create more prosperous and livable communities. Coordinating efforts of agencies, organizations and institutions, encouraging them to communicate with one another, is needed to ensure the success of the initiative, Angelis said.
"We need to have the generations pulling together, not pulling apart," she said. Mees said the effort is "an investment in the future."
Generations Serving Generations has scheduled a series of local discussions to highlight best practices and good ideas as well as stimulating new thinking about utilizing older adults and younger generations to strengthen communities.
Southern Illinois discussions include:
Nov. 16, Southeastern Illinois College, Harrisburg
Nov. 17, Shawnee Community College, Ullin
Nov. 22, John A. Logan College, Carterville
Dec. 2, Kaskaskia College, Centralia, and Southwestern Illinois College, Belleville.
Other events are being planned for January and February.
For questions or suggestions, contact Jane Angelis at email@example.com or 618-201-2843.