Thursday, November 21, 2013

Universal Children’s Day – No Age Limit on Making a Difference

For her ninth birthday, Rachel Beckwith asked her family for donations to help bring clean water to people in poor countries. She died in a car crash before she could see her $300 goal exceeded a thousand times over.
Ryleigh Kastra and Joshua Williams fed needy people in their communities. Rachel Beckwith brought clean water to African villagers. These young people, all of whom Youth Service America (YSA) recognized as Everyday Young Heroes, weren’t in their teens when they decided to make a difference…they were children.

Yesterday was Universal Children’s Day, which the United Nations and its member countries observed for two reasons: 1) promote mutual exchange and understanding among children and 2) to promote the welfare of the world's children.

Of the former, these young people weren’t waiting on anyone to take action. They did it, themselves – like Rachel Beckwith of Seattle, Washington. On her ninth birthday, Beckwith asked her family for donations to Charity: water. She set up a website with the nonprofit, hoping to meet her $300 goal (she only reached $220 by her birthday).

Ryleigh Kastra from Charlottesville, Virginia, was just as ready to affect change when she joined a national food drive initiative started by another Everyday Young Hero. Kastra was 8 years old when she created flyers, asking for canned goods donations. She distributed nearly 400 of her flyers. She collected 700 pounds of food to deliver on her first trip to Neighbors-4-Neighbors.

(PHOTO: Lance Cheung) The White House recognized 11-year-old Joshua Williams, of Miami, last year as a “Champion of Change” for strengthening food security in the United States and around the world.
Joshua Williams, of Miami, Florida, and his family were on their way to feed the homeless when officials told them it was against public health laws to distribute food without a permit.

He was initially inspired by what he saw on TV. “I was watching Feed The Children, and I felt sad for the children,” Williams said in the Sodexo Foundation’s video, which included interviews with Williams’s aunt KerryAnne McLean and his friend Alexander Bailey. Of Feed the Children, Williams added, “I wanted to do [something similar] in Florida.”

That’s when his mom, aunt and a consultant helped him start his own foundation, Joshua’s Heart, when he was 5 years old. “It was amazing because his friends and other family members -- everyone -- was excited to help…and put a smile on someone else’s face,” McLean said.

The Foundation has since raised over 400,000 pounds of food to needy families in South Florida, while teaching some recipients how to prepare healthier meals. “We have volunteers and elves,” Williams said. “Volunteers are adults, and the elves are children. They’re my friends, or friends of my friends.”

An elf admired Williams’s selflessness. “I think Joshua has a very big heart,” Bailey said. “I would say that he's a very thankful person and he's very helpful.”

Universal Children’s Day is an opportunity to be as helpful in promoting the welfare of the world’s children. Two years ago, Generations United teamed up with the MetLife Foundation to help the Ryleighs, the Joshuas and the Rachels out there, looking to put their entrepreneurial spirits to work.

Through our youth-led jump-start grants, young people developed volunteer projects working with, or on behalf of, older adults. I remember what a teenager, who took part in our project, once reported. “One thing I learned through this project is to respect your community and your history,” he said.

“For all of the retired teachers we worked with, most had lived here for a while, and even though they are done working and could leave if they wanted to, they did not. I learned through their stories that your community has a way of shaping you and your history, and that your community never leaves you.”

Generations United promoted the welfare of the world’s children by stating our support for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines two weeks ago – leaving thousands, who lost everything, struggling to survive without food or medical care. We used our weekly e-newsletter, Generations This Week, to direct support to HelpAge USA and Save the Children.

At our Signature Report event next month, we’ll tackle the zero-sum framework (funding programs like Social Security and Medicare for Americans over 65 vs. addressing college debt and youth unemployment), which sets up a false conflict between our older and younger generations.

As we celebrate Universal Children’s Day, let’s nurture our children’s potential and show them there’s no age limit on affecting change.

A Kinder, Gentler World for Our Veterans

Editor's note: This blog post was first published on the Huffington Post and featured in Huff/Post50. 
Over four decades ago, Led Zeppelin first sang, "...a new day will dawn for those who stand long,/and the forest will echo with laughter." While the true meaning of the lyrics can be debated, what does ring true is the way in which our troops are now welcomed home and thanked for "standing long" to protect our freedoms.

Veteran's Day is when we offer our thanks and gratitude to our nation's vets through wreath laying ceremonies, parades and military exhibits. It's "a new day" for returned soldiers and former military, who are enjoying a shift in the national mood that went from vilifying Vietnam and ignoring those who served to fully embracing this commemorative day.

Nowhere is this shift seen more than in intergenerational programs across the country and abroad that serve as lifelines for military families and engage older vets as mentors. Among those who offer programs that connect older adults, children and youth is The New Hampshire Veterans Home (NHVH), which has weekly activities that mix their older residents with middle and high school students in activities including playing board and trivia games based on U.S. and world history, farming and discussing career goals.

The multicultural and international population at Tilton, one of seven schools the NHVH collaborates with, helps both students and residents learn about each other's cultures, while learning they're more alike than they thought.

Exchanges like these are a win-win-win. They're a win for young people who get extra attention, guidance and support. They're a win for older vets who enjoy a greater sense of purpose. They're a win for communities empowered by collaboration, pooling resources and engaging in cooperative problem solving.

Those community services make shared sites -- facilities where children, youth and older adults receive services -- like Easter Seals' Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, invaluable. Through their Little Warrior Program, the center provides free childcare for children of wounded soldiers. These young people, whose parents saw trauma first-hand, can inherit what Dr. Anita Brown called intergenerational post-traumatic stress distorder (iptsd).

The research suggests that anger, anxiety and heightened sense of vulnerability are some symptoms that children of wounded soldiers are likely to experience, according to Brown, a clinical psychologist at the Defense Centers of Excellence.

Easter Seals helps offset these signs early by caring for young people from six weeks to 13 years old. Older adults play a vital role in the program reassuring, comforting and caring about the young ones during these important developmental years. The parents say the children respond well to the extra support and caring they receive from their intergenerational friends.

There's something else that comes from these cross generation bonds, according to the late cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: "If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life."

Earlier this year, World War II veterans, residents of Chester County, Pennsylvania's Lakeside Assisted Living, impacted the lives of students at a local elementary school. During the veteran's visit, the benefits were two-fold: students got additional context on the war they read about in school books, while veterans felt valued as they shared their personal histories with a future generation.

At the Southwestern Veterans Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the vets did the active listening. During the center's Intergenerational Reading Program, students from Transfiguration School shared their stories in either one-on-one or small group settings. The program's goal, like other shared sites, is to enhance all participants' quality of life by improving attitudes toward elders and share life experiences.

The Memory Project in Canada takes the intergenerational endeavor to another level. Through an educational partnership between Historica Canada and the Ontario Seniors' Secretariat, The Memory Project brings the Veterans of World War II, the Korean War and peacekeeping missions into school classrooms and over the Internet.

Veterans Day provides the perfect opportunity to renew our national promise and stand long for our vets who deserve our respect and a new day, who make it possible -- as Led Zeppelin sings it -- for our forest, and future generations, to "echo with laughter."