- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

Seniors retire and suddenly have hours to fill. The number of children living in single-parent households is growing. Can these groups be combined somehow to the benefit of both?

The answer, as many national and local business-oriented and nonprofit groups have proved, is yes through mentoring relationships.

Some programs, such as Edgewood Management's community services programs, provide mentoring opportunities as part of an eclectic mix of activities for residents at Edgewood properties. With 15 residential properties in the District and surrounding areas, Edgewood Management provides housing for people of all ages with the added benefit of on-site community services. Edgewood saw the opportunity to bring seniors and children together and seized it.

"It's a wonderful choice for retired people, a way for them to give back to the community," says Kathy Dougherty, vice president in charge of community services for Edgewood Management.

"I would always encourage only those who are truly interested in working with children to volunteer or seek employment doing this kind of thing, as it's based around interest, but those that make that choice find it very fulfilling, knowing that they are contributing to their local community."

One such volunteer, Rosemary Higdon of Queenstown, has been working for Edgewood Community Services' after-school mentoring program for almost two years and says that feeling of community involvement is at the top of her list of reasons for committing to the program.

"I truly feel that I am giving something to these kids and to this community. I wouldn't trade the experience of mentoring, knowing that I'm helping these children, for anything in the world," she says. "Because so many of the seniors have lived a full, long life, we've been able to experience so many things and feel better equipped to help with everything from spelling and math homework to cooking projects, arts and crafts and history lessons."

Ms. Higdon says the seniors are able to give the children valuable support.

"I feel so proud when I'm able to help support one of these children in their goals, such as one of our children's reaching the honor roll and then the principal's list," she says.

Senior mentors Charles Payne and Stanley Foster, also part of Edgewood's community services mentoring program, concur.

"I can't even tell you how proud I am when I know that these kids are learning and accomplishing," Mr. Payne says. "I feel like I'm being useful and that these kids are being productive; I highly recommend it to any senior who wants to make a difference. Nothing can replace the feeling of seeing these kids smile and knowing that they're happy."

Mr. Foster says his participation as a male role model is especially important.

"After a career in government service, I wanted to continue to give to my community and try to be a good role model, especially as a male.

"There is a need for all of these children, boys and girls alike, to be mentored and helped. I love to help them all, especially with math, but I feel that the males are especially in need when it comes to mentors. Hopefully I fill part of that void."

One area program, the Grandfathers Group, focuses on finding mentors for 6- to 9-year-old black boys whose fathers are not around for support and guidance.

Working through the Campagna Center's Retired & Senior Volunteer Program in Alexandria, the Grandfathers Group provides "foster grandfathers" for at-risk boys and hosts monthly special events sponsored by supporters. These activities have included shows at the MCI Center, the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap and outings to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Joan Dale, coordinator of the Grandfathers Group, says mentoring is one of the most effective ways to protect children and help them form positive values.

Numerous studies nationwide have shown that mentoring produces results, says Ms. Dale, referring to a recent Public/Private Ventures study. The study of one-to-one mentoring found that youths who met with their mentors regularly for a year were 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using drugs, 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and in general were more trusting of their parents and guardians and less likely to lie to them.

Fortune magazine offers the following insight: "The number one indicator of success for a child is a good relationship with a caring adult."

More information

Organizations

• Edgewood Management's community services program; Cathy Dougherty, director. Information: 301/925-4251. Edgewood Management offers mentoring programs for people who live in its 15 area properties.

• The Grandfathers Group, Joan Dale, coordinator. Information: 703/549-1607. This group focuses on finding mentors for 6- to 9-year-old black boys.

• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Frederick County's Intergenerational Program provides an opportunity for middle and high school students to serve their communities through interaction with senior citizens. Call Mimi Brady at 301/694-9455.

• The Virginia Intergenerational Network is supported by a partnership of Northern Virginia Community College and the Virginia Department for the Aging. This cooperative venture is a model for other institutions and organizations to build intergenerational links within their communities. Call Sheila Craig at 703/845-6437.

On line

• For a directory of Web sites on aging, visit http://www.aoa.dhhs.gov. The site includes links to national organizations such as Generations United.

Books

• "Making Mentoring Happen: A Simple and Effective Guide to Implementing a Successful Mentoring Program," by Kathy Lacey, Business and Professional Publishing, 2000.

• "The Art of Mentoring: Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way," by Shirley Peddy, Learning Connections, 1999.

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