Living Columns & Blogs

How Centre County seniors can help area youth

At bedtime, when my youngest son was in elementary school, he would always say, “Tell me a story about when you were a kid.” Thus began a wonderful bedtime ritual.

Often times the stories I told him came from memories of my grandparents. I told him how I used to ride the late bus to my grandma’s everyday after practice and stay there until my mom could pick me up. My grandmother loved African Violets and had windowsills full of them. From her I learned special tips about watering them so they stayed healthy.

I also told him about time spent with my other grandmother, rolling out dough and cutting it into squares for chicken pot pie, making coconut custard pies, going shopping for school clothes each year, and the time she surprised me with a pair of red shoes that I adored. She and my grandfather had a small farm and so my son heard stories about the crazy things that happened there.

I also told my son stories about Emil and Fern, an elderly neighbor couple who were substitute grandparents for me, because until I was 12 we lived 1200 miles away from our extended family. We loved visiting Emil. He always gave us a glass of 7-Up and a vanilla cookie when we knocked on his door. In the summertime he would come home from the grocery store with a big watermelon under his arm and we’d gather around the picnic table, having watermelon seed spitting contests and racing around his house while he timed us to see who was the fastest. For my parent’s 10th wedding anniversary, Emil and Fern helped my siblings and me put on a talent show for them.

Older adults can play a crucial role in contributing to the healthy development of young people, yet circumstances where these relationships have the potential to develop are diminishing, both in families and in communities. Adults 50 and older are an amazing resource because they have a lifetime of experience and wisdom to share. These adults are looking for opportunities to contribute to the community, to stay connected, to pass on traditions and to leave a legacy. Margaret Mead said, “Somehow we have to get older people back close to growing children if we are to restore a sense of community, a knowledge of the past and a sense of the future.”

In Centre County we have many such opportunities for adults over 50. One such opportunity is a new intergenerational mentoring program offered by the YSB and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. This program matches adults, 50+ with children who are facing adversity and need extra support in their lives. Penn State’s Intergenerational Learning Institute is another way for adults to get involved in the community. For more information contact the YSB at or 237-5731 or the Office of Aging at or 355-6757. You can also contact the Penn State program at

Denise Herr McCann is the associate director at Centre County Youth Service Bureau.