Every year, about 4,000 people in Vermont turn 65 - roughly the population of Randolph – contributing to a nearly one-to-one ratio between young and older Vermonters.
This in turn means that soon, senior Vermonters will outnumber young Vermonters - a trend of some concern for our economy and infrastructure, but one that also presents great opportunities for inter-generational exchange and support.
According to SerVermont, 750 young people are already mentored by Foster Grandparents in schools across the state. And more are needed, especially in communities like Bennington, Essex, North Hero, Richford and Rutland.
When I was the Head Start Advocate at Burlington Children’s Space, we all felt happier when our Foster Grandparent, Grandma Harriett, was in the rocking chair, making children laugh and wiping away tears.
And my personal sense of well-being, confidence, and self-esteem were bolstered in ways that are still unfolding by my own grandmother’s investment in my learning and success. Every day from the age of two, she would find me playing in the backyard and instruct me that it was time to “take dictation.” I would search for an escape route, and then finally relent.
This meant reading aloud for at least an hour from a book of animal adventures and then copying the text in cursive. Yes, she had me writing in cursive as a toddler. Later, when the idea of Tiger Moms – who parent in an obsessive manner – was being debated in American culture, I realized I was raised by a Tiger Grandmother.
But according to the American Sociological Association, an emotionally close grandparent-grandchild relationship is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations. And whether or not they have grandchildren of their own, senior Vermonters have the opportunity to build that kind of relationship with young Vermonters.
Chances are both will benefit greatly. According to an American Grandparents Association study, 72% of grandparents “think being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life.”
I lost my grandmother seven years ago – after I won and served my first term in the State Legislature – and I credit her with my success. She never thought of politics as a particularly noble profession, and would have been happier if I’d become a lawyer or an engineer. But no matter what, she was always happiest when I wrote a letter home – in cursive, of course.