In last night’s address to a joint-session of Congress, President Obama called for a new era of innovation to lead the country out of the recession. It was an unprecedented call for reform and comprehensive action across almost all sectors of economy and all segments of society. It’s been a long time since the nation has been asked to act this boldly.
Meeting this call to action will require engaging both young and old. For all three of the major policy initiatives identified by the President last night (education, healthcare, and energy) there are proven models that engage all generations in creative solutions.
In President Obama’s call for education reform, he indicated how important early childhood education is to the recovery and long-term growth of the country. One of the best ways to promote early childhood education is to engage our senior population to mentor our children in schools and Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Generations United is calling for Congress to incentivize the construction of intergenerational shared sites so children and seniors are more easily connected. Additionally, the success of Generations United’s Seniors4Kids initiative (seniors advocating for universal and high-quality Pre-K) in states like Florida, New York, and Kentucky proves early childhood education is an effective intergenerational cause.
President Obama also called for school reform so that we are providing innovative schools and motivated teachers for our students. The Intergenerational School in Cleveland, Ohio is a perfect example of an innovative charter school. The school, which has been one of the most high-performing schools in the Cleveland school district, utilizes senior mentors in the curriculum. The administration should also consider expanding successful teacher mentoring programs that pair retired teachers with current teachers.
The second major initiative President Obama addressed was health care reform. It was encouraging to hear the President say that he wants to pass comprehensive health care reform this year. Not enough children and families have health insurance and those that do have insurance pay too much for inefficient and incomplete coverage.
President Obama also called on for Energy reform and innovation. Leaving a healthy and thriving planet for future generations is an idea shared by the original Americans – Native Americans. "Seven Generations” refers to a core philosophical value of American Indians, which states that for the well being of future generations, the responsibility rests on every generation that comes before them. If we act and make decisions that have the best interest of the Seventh Generation, our unborn generation, we will ensure healthy future generations. In even as complex an issue as energy reform, intergenerational programs can play a helpful role. An example is one volunteer program in Florida has young people to help seniors make their homes more energy efficient.
Regardless of the policy initiative, intergenerational solutions have shown to be exactly the kind of innovation President Obama called for last night. Lastly, let me add that I was inspired to hear the President’s call to pass the Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act. Some of the best examples of intergenerational service, such as Senior Corps and AmeriCorps, are strengthened by this bill. These programs are part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is long-over due for reform that can match the capacity of this country’s desire to serve.