older adults are leading change


Tackling the high school graduation crisis: older adults mentoring the next generation


A city of just over 200,000, Rochester, N.Y., anchors a six county metropolitan area with 1.1 million people. Like other American communities surrounded by relatively affluent suburbs, the inner city today confronts many of the difficulties faced by former industrial centers. At 46 percent, the Rochester City School District high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation. Among the city’s African American youth, only 9 percent of students entering 9th grade earn high school diplomas.

In 2005, with mounting concern about declining academic achievement, Rochester’s mayor created a task force to plan a community-wide response to shore up the educational system. A growing body of research was showing that strong, nurturing relationships with adult role models can make the difference in helping youth navigate adolescence and successfully reach the milestone of high school graduation. Drawing on this evidence, the task force named mentoring as a central strategy of their plan for improving academic achievement.

Years later, Rochester’s mentoring effort was still struggling to gain traction. The Rochester Area Community Foundation began considering how they could best support the call for mentors. The city already had several mentoring programs, and it didn’t make sense to create something new. Rochester’s mentoring organizations had effective programs to train and match mentors with youth, but they struggled to meet demand that far exceeded supply. Above all, what was needed was a way to increase the pool of mentoring talent.

Around the same time, the Foundation began prioritizing aging as a new focus area for their investment in the community. Although some people initially thought about the issue of aging with a traditional lens—thinking about “seniors” as frail, elderly people in need of support—it quickly became apparent that Rochester’s baby boomer generation had a great deal to give. Older adults are potentially ideal candidates to be mentors: they bring a lifetime of professional and parenting experience, many have available time, and a significant number are looking for ways to use their talents to help improve their communities. Following a community assessment that confirmed older adults were concerned about youth achievement, the Foundation officially launched Boomer Mentors. With support from The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Community Experience Partnership, Boomer Mentors became one of nine community initiatives across the country dedicated to tapping older adults as a high-impact resource for achieving important community-level change.




  • Rochester, New York
  • Total population = 211,000 (metro area = 1.1 million)
  • 50+ population = 53,000 (25%)


  • 120+ volunteers supporting mentoring
  • 20,000+ hours of service (valued at more than $500,000)
  • $720,000 raised to support the program
  • $700,000+ in donated media