Young people growing up in foster care face tremendous challenges, but a Colorado nonprofit is proving that older adult volunteers can provide the web of support that kids need to heal and that foster families need to keep going.

For its groundbreaking work tapping the talents of people over 50 to help young people thrive, Fostering Hope won the Judge’s Prize at the 2018 Gen2Gen Encore Prize finals — and $50,000.

With the help of older volunteers “who stick with the kids” and show a “quiet endurance,” Fostering Hope has seen impressive results for the young people they work with, said Angela Carron, the group’s executive director — higher high school graduation rates, higher rates of adoption, and dramatically lower rates of homelessness after aging out of foster care.

“I’m surprised by the return on investment of unconditional love,” Carron said.

Read to Me International’s Haku Mo’olelo program — which engages older volunteers in Honolulu to help incarcerated women write, illustrate and publish stories for their children — won the Audience Prize and $20,000.

Lois Kim, a program graduate, offered her own story as proof of the program’s impact. “I was homeless, selfish and hopeless,” she said, and spent time behind bars. “Today,” she said, her voice breaking, “I am a proud mother deeply involved in my child’s life. I’m a published author. I’m clean and sober and self-sufficient.”

The program’s older volunteers “referred to us by name,” Kim said, “and treated us like family. The high quality art supplies they brought gave us immense pride in our artwork. I felt human again, hopeful. Through the book I created, I was able to offer my apology to my deceased mother and to my daughter. I got my hopefully ever after.”

Three other organizations won $10,000 each for their ideas to bring the generations together.

  • Common Unity pairs high school students in Topeka, Kansas with older mentors to help them prepare for life after high school.
  • Nuns & Nones connects Sisters and spiritually diverse millennials to build a more just world.
  • builds intergenerational bonds by engaging teens to tutor older adults in nonviolent Esports, like NBA2k.

“Hundreds of people have been involved with the 2018 Gen2Gen Encore Prize,” said Janet Oh, the program’s director, who offered thanks to all 110 applicants, 105 volunteer readers, 24 semi-finalists, 16 judges, 10,037 voters, and two funders — the John Templeton Foundation and the MetLife Foundation.

Photos by S. Smith Patrick