Monday, February 12, 2024

Voices from the Field: Hiring Older Youth Workers in Afterschool

Source: Experience Corps

By Sam Piha

Eric Gurna is the former president and CEO of LA’s BEST and he has some experience with hiring older youth workers in afterschool programs. To learn more about this, we asked him a few questions and his responses are below.

Q: Do you think hiring older adults to work with youth is a good match?

A: I do think hiring older adults to work with youth is a good match - it's mutually beneficial for youth participants, young adult staff and older adults. We don't create enough opportunities in our culture for intergenerational exchange outside family settings. Historically we had these opportunities for older and younger people to interact in mutually enriching ways but in our current modern American society this is lacking, and bringing older adults in to work with youth in informal educational settings is a way to do that. Older adults bring a range of experiences that they can share with the mostly young adult staff of afterschool programs as well as youth. In practical terms it is also a good fit - the youth program workforce is largely part-time, and many older adults are looking for that kind of arrangement. 

Q: Generational diversity (older workers)- What are the benefits to the workplace, workers, and youth?

A: Please see answer above! Intergenerational communication has the potential to build empathy and understanding on all sides.  

Q: What are the potential challenges?

A: Because many young adults have not had the opportunity to interact with many older adults outside their own family, some may feel a bit close-minded to learning from and working with older adults. Likewise, some older adults can bring a sort of "I know best," condescending approaching to younger staff. I think these challenges are relatively minor, and can be mostly avoided with a strong staff orientation and ongoing professional development process, so that all staff learn and grow together.

Source: AARP Experience Corps

Q: How should an organization prepare itself to incorporate older workers?

A: I’m not really sure of the specifics here, but I think the first step is to learn from other organizations who have made intentional efforts to incorporate older workers already. Understanding the needs and concerns that older adults have about coming into a youth program workplace is important, so asking them about that would be a good start as well. 

Q: Any resources that you would recommend?

A: When I was CEO of LA's BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program, we had a thriving partnership with AARP Experience Corps - they have developed amazing partnerships with youth programs across the country and have a wealth of experience to learn from.  

Q: Would you offer any tips for program leaders?

A: Besides what I have already mentioned, I would encourage program leaders to stay open minded and enthusiastic about the idea of bringing older adults into their workforce - that positive attitude will go a long way. 

MORE ABOUT…

Eric Gurna
Eric Gurna is an experienced nonprofit executive and consultant committed to supporting the work of organizations dedicated to community & youth development and social justice. From 2015 to 2021, Eric served as President & CEO of LA's BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program, a partnership of the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the private sector serving 25,000 children at nearly 200 Los Angeles elementary schools. Eric joined LA’s BEST as the second President & CEO in the organization’s history. During his tenure, LA's BEST helped to lead a statewide advocacy movement that led to close to $200M in increased funding for expanded learning programs, secured the largest private donation in organizational history ($2M), spearheaded an initiative for LA's BEST to become the first large-scale trauma-informed expanded learning system in the nation and completely revamped the organization's visual branding and messaging.

Eric brings a deep commitment to positive youth development to his work, and a national reputation for thought leadership in the Expanded Learning movement. He also brings a nuanced understanding and appreciation for how children learn and develop, and a passion for staff and program development.

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