The Rural Alaska Community Action Program is looking for elders to help mentor youth statewide — especially in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough.
The nonprofit’s Elder Mentor Program is designed to foster closer relationships between generations of Alaskans, said RurAL CAP program manager Jan Abbott. Elder volunteers are carefully paired with local sites where they pass down wisdom and spend quality one-on-one time with students in need of a little extra help. Everyone benefits, Abbott said: elders who can remain active in their community, students who receive a valuable adult role model and teachers who get an extra hand in the classroom. The key is to find the perfect fit.
“It’s kind of like being a matchmaker,” Abbott said.
There are currently about 50 elder volunteers working at around 30 sites statewide, according to RurAL CAP. The mentor program can work in various community settings, Abbott said, but schools seem to work best. And the program is looking for more participants; both mentoring sites and elder volunteers.
“What we’re hoping to do is continue to grow the program,” Abbott said.
The mentor program is beginning to work with Kids’ Corp, Inc. and has sites in Muldoon and Government Hill, but nothing yet in Mountain View.
When the program finds a site willing to host elder mentors, Abbott said, RurAL CAP searches for volunteers who live in the surrounding area “so it’s really more of a neighborhood impact.” Volunteers — who serve through the national Senior Corps’ Foster Grandparents program — are required to spend approximately 20 hours a week working with children at their site. In return, they’re paid a small, tax-exempt stipend, Abbott said.
The volunteer program is open to low-income Alaskans at least 55 years old who can pass a background check and annual wellness assessment. Abbott said the application process is fairly rigorous, but the program attracts volunteers from many backgrounds.
One mentor at Central Middle School used to be a science teacher in Nigeria, she said, while an elder volunteer at Abbott Loop Elementary put all of her own children through college in the Phillipines. Now, they’re sharing their experiences with Alaska youth in Anchorage classrooms.
“We have so many children out there that are missing that generational relationship,” Abbott said.
To contact the Elder Mentor Program or learn more, click here or call 907.865.7276.