Pregnancy Prevention: Older Adults Mentor At-Risk Adolescents
Starting in January 1997, the National Council on the Aging, Washington, implemented the first initiative in the country to match older adults with young people in a pregnancy prevention project.
The program was called Generations Involved in Future Trust. The National Council on the Aging implemented the project in Boston, in collaboration with Action for Boston Community Development, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Project Life, an after-school program for adolescents at risk.
- Some 15 older adult volunteers and 11 adolescents participated in a group-centered mentoring program.
- To instill a sense of personal responsibility, youth and their mentors planned and conducted six community service activities, including:
- Assisting at a food pantry.
- Visiting nursing homes.
- Raising funds for Project Life.
- A process evaluation, which examined the feasibility of pairing older mentors and adolescents, concluded that training the senior mentors helped dispel their initial concerns about working with adolescents on a sensitive subject.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the project with a grant of $50,000 between January 1997 and April 1999.
Family Friends, a program of the Intergenerational Office of NCOA, was established in 1984 with grants from RWJF (ID#s 008790, 010490, 010640, 010573) to recruit and train older volunteers to mentor children with disabilities. The value of the Family Friends model led RWJF to begin a $3.76 million national initiative in July 1986 called Older Volunteers to Assist Disabled Children and Their Families, which operated in eight sites around the United States. The model also has been replicated with other target groups, including homeless and HIV-infected children, and at-risk children in poor, rural communities.
This RWJF grant supported a project to extend NCOA'S Family Friends intergenerational mentoring model to teen pregnancy prevention programs of the CDC. Initial discussions with CDC staff indicated support for a collaborative project in three or four communities where both Family Friends and CDC-funded pregnancy prevention programs were already located. RWJF's grant was intended to match awards from the CDC and other private foundations.
After months of planning and extensive discussions between Family Friends and CDC project directors at local sites (Philadelphia, Boston, and San Antonio), it became apparent that divergent approaches to the problem of teen pregnancy prevented the project from being implemented as planned. CDC's emphasis on research, assessment, and coalition-building among existing projects was at odds with Family Friends' efforts to launch a new intervention. Although willing to provide training and in-kind support, the CDC was unwilling to provide matching funds for the new initiative. Unable to garner sufficient support from either the CDC or private foundations, NCOA decided to test its pilot project on a smaller scale in Boston, MA. In the fall of 1997, Family Friends entered into a service agreement with ABCD, the largest community action agency in New England, to develop GIFT. It was the first initiative in the country to match older adults with young people in a pregnancy prevention project. Revised objectives were to design a working community partnership, recruit and train 20 grandparent/mentors per year, match them with high-risk adolescents, and instill in the youth a sense of personal responsibility through involvement in community service activities.
The project also hired a sociologist and gerontologist as program evaluator, who made a site visit and performed a process evaluation eight months into the Boston pilot project. The evaluation assessed the overall feasibility of the project and identified best practices, challenges, and lessons learned.
- A core partnership of three agencies launched the GIFT teen pregnancy prevention program. ABCD was chosen as the lead agency because of its experience with mentoring programs; ACBD already had both a Family Friends program and a Foster Grandparents program, which recruits low-income adult mentors and pays them a stipend to mentor at-risk children. The CDC-funded Boston Intervention for Teen Pregnancy program provided training to project staff, senior mentors, and adolescents on such issues as adolescent health, decision-making, self-respect, and teen peer pressure. The third partner was Project Life, an after-school program in the low-income Roxbury section of Boston, which provided referrals, primarily of Latina adolescents, and a site for program activities.
- Fifteen older adult volunteers and 11 adolescents participated in a group-centered mentoring program. Instead of the originally conceived one-on-one matching of an older mentor with an adolescent, the GIFT model evolved into a group-centered program with older mentors joining youths at Project Life. This structure provided a safe environment for the youths and mentors to form "natural" relationships with one another; eventually some one-on-one, two-on-one, and one-on-two matches were made, with group meetings also continuing. The youth, whose average age was 11, were all Latina or African American. The majority lived in single-parent homes; many had mothers who had been teen parents or older teen siblings who were raising a child. Ultimately, most of the mentors came from the Foster Grandparents program due to the high level of interest among participating elders and to the limited resources available to the Family Friends program.
- To instill a sense of personal responsibility, youth and their mentors planned and conducted six community service activities, including assisting at a food pantry, visiting nursing homes, and raising funds for Project Life.
- Training the senior mentors helped dispel their initial concerns about working with adolescents on a sensitive subject. The senior mentors acknowledged initial concerns about talking with youth about sex and feared the potential for violence among high-risk adolescents. They indicated that these concerns were dispelled by training in communicating with youth about sex and by shared activities, such as oral histories and a quilt-making project. The evaluator found that while both the youth and the older mentors were uncertain initially about their abilities to interact, the age difference did not prove to be an obstacle.
Articles about the project appeared in Newsline, the newsletter of the Family Friends Resource Center (see the Bibliography).
AFTER THE GRANT
ABCD continues to sponsor GIFT, with Project Life providing space and staff supervision to youth and mentors who meet regularly and conduct community service projects. Additional funds are being sought. GIFT was featured at a national conference on Family Friends held in Washington, D.C., in March 2000.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Linking the Family Friends Intergenerational Model with the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program
National Council on the Aging Inc. (Washington, DC)
Dates: January 1997 to April 1999
Miriam S. Charnow
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
"RWJF Funds Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project," in The Family Friends Resource Center Newsline, Fall 1997.
"Generations Involved in Future Trust (GIFT)," in The Family Friends Resource Center Newsline, Summer/Fall 1998.
Report prepared by: Jayme Hannay
Reviewed by: Karyn L. Feiden
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Program Officer: Paul S. Jellinek