The Intergenerational Entrepreneurship Demonstration Project: An Innovative Approach to Intergenerational Mentoring

By Weston, Richard; Owen, Melissa et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, October 1993 | Go to article overview

The Intergenerational Entrepreneurship Demonstration Project: An Innovative Approach to Intergenerational Mentoring


Weston, Richard, Owen, Melissa, McGuire, Francis, Backman, Kenneth, Allen, Jeffrey, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Leisure encompasses the three dimensions of perceived freedom, intrinsic motivation, and non-instrumentality (Neulinger, 1974). In other words, a leisure activity is chosen freely and done for its own sake. Examining the question of whether one leisure activity is better than another led Kaplan (1960) to suggest that while personal benefits can be found in most leisure pursuits, some activities can also serve people within society while simultaneously serving the participant. Based on these criteria, volunteer activity can be considered a form of leisure behavior. Volunteering, like other leisure pursuits, typically includes freely chosen activities from which largely intrinsic benefits are derived. Goodale and Godbey (1988) assert that, "Using free time to voluntarily help others would seem to be a superior form of leisure" (p. 232).

Previous anecdotal and empirical reports lend support to the idea of volunteering as a form of leisure behavior (Henderson, 1981). Not only does the community benefit from volunteers' activity, but the volunteers may, at the same time, be satisfying various social and psychological needs. The reciprocal nature of the benefits associated with volunteering may be particularly apparent among older adults. In 1990, older Americans contributed approximately 163,000 hours of volunteer work every day (Vierck, 1990). This group alone is capable of contributing the skills, knowledge, and insight garnered from a lifetime of experience (Perry, 1983). The effective use these qualities benefits the community directly by providing a pool of inexpensive, skilled persons who are not obligated to traditional work roles. At the same time, however, older volunteers may benefit from an improved sense of self-worth as a result of greater social interaction, and opportunities to demonstrate skills and knowledge while making a meaningful contribution to the community (MacNeil & Teague, 1987). With the increasing elderly population and the growing needs of the community, volunteerism represents a viable opportunity for older adults, through their leisure time, to continue to serve the community in a variety of important areas while contributing to their own well-being.

Intergenerational Volunteerism

There is a long and well-documented history of volunteer involvement in the lives of at-risk children and adolescents (Platt, 1969). Today, one popular manifestation of this involvement is what has come to be known as "intergenerational mentoring programs." Typically, these efforts combine older adults with at-risk youth of all ages, either in dyads or small groups.

The term "at-risk" has many definitions and is used in discussions regarding physical, social, and psychological development. A plethora of intergenerational programs exist which attempt to establish some sort of therapeutic relationship between older adults and children in an effort to ameliorate the effects of a child's "risk" status. For example, in the Work Connection, a mentoring program created by the International Union of Electrical Workers, retired union members provide alternatives for jail-bound youth by helping them find jobs and monitoring their performance and attendance. In the School Volunteers for Boston program, older adults function as mentors in the classroom and after school, tutoring at-risk youth in basic math and reading. And in the Teenage Parent Alternative Program (TPAP) in Detroit, older women work in an alternative school for pregnant teens, educating them on health care issues and parenting skills. Additionally, they provide child-care services while the young mothers are in school (Freedman, 1988).

While many intergenerational programs are successful, others suffer from difficulties, including rigidly and narrowly defined interaction patterns between elderly volunteers and youth, lack of meaningful roles for participants, and failure to adjust to the specific needs of different communities (e. …

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