By Sarah McKinney Gibson
I first learned about Grandpas United last year, when the grassroots organization applied for the Gen2Gen Encore Prize for the work it’s doing to support young people in White Plains, New York.
I sparked to the idea immediately. It’s pretty easy to imagine grandpa groups all over the country, a massive mobilization of older men working to uplift kids and improve communities. The potential impact is exciting!
I sent an email to Jim Isenberg, 74, one of the co-founders. We met for coffee a few months later when he was in Los Angeles visiting his hometown of Venice Beach. He reminded me a lot of my own father, 73, a grandpa with a lot of energy who’s always finding new ways to leverage his experience and give back.
Jim created Grandpas United with Frank Williams, 66, head of the White Plains Youth Bureau, a city agency that’s been helping youth grow into successful adults since 1970. The two men are passionate about two things — creating intergenerational connections and changing the narrative about older men in our country.
“We have this stereotype that older men bark all the time,” Frank says, “that they complain and fuss, don’t move well and are ill or unhealthy. We’ve tried to shine a positive light on men and grandfathers as being men who are caring, kind, and compassionate. They’re leaders in the community who want to touch the lives of young people and make a positive difference.”
It’s been fun to follow Jim and Frank’s progress over the past year — the partnerships they’ve been forming with local schools and libraries, and the creative ways they’ve been connecting with kids in their community.
“We had a wonderful night where one of the grandpas who’s 92 years old and had been the president of the electricians union came and met with a group of high school students and talked about apprenticeships,” says Jim. “There’s just a whole range of grandpas out there who have a tremendous reservoir of knowledge.”
Jim sent me photos with subject lines like “Coffee with Grandpas,” “Grandpas Go to School,” “Cooking with Grandpas,” and “Grandpas Sports Night.” He reported on how things went and what the group is planning to do next. I love seeing the smiling faces in all the photos. It’s a diverse group of inspiring men, providing role models and mentors for kids without a father figure or grandfather in their lives.
“It really does take a village,” says Frank, “not just to raise a child but also to support grandmothers and grandfathers and to help create a healthy environment for all community members.”
Jim and Frank want to help other men start their own grandpa groups and share tips and strategies that have worked for Grandpas United.
“This is really something that can be replicated across the country,” Jim says, “and we really welcome that opportunity because we know there are so many fine grandpas out there and so many communities that would welcome their involvement.”
Want to bring Grandpas United to your city? Write to [email protected] today, and I’ll make sure they get the message.