I’ve seen the future and it surprised the cynicism out of me

Over the past three days I escorted a group of teens from the Duluth, Minnesota area around our city. They were visiting under the auspices of the TRIO Program, an educational initiative started fifty years ago by the Johnson administration to level the playing field for high school kids from low-income communities.

We visited college campuses, museums, went to the theater and took enough pictures in front of the Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate sculpture (“the Bean”) to fill the yearbooks of every high school in the Midwest.

Their eyes opened wide along the way but none more so than my own.

They saw their pending adulthood with clear visions: “I want to be a teacher… a nurse…a graphics artist… an endocrinologist…” There wasn’t a lobbyist, vulture capitalist or Bitcoin manipulator in the group.

I felt optimistic as I watched with admiration how the three educators who ran the regional TRIO program out of Duluth’s St. Scholastica College mentored the group with affection and respect. They were ardent and selfless, personifying for their charges a future where compassion took the place of competition and empathy replaced ego to create a persuasive spirit of one-for-all rather than all-for-me.

It inspired me to do more than simply point out the Picasso in front of Daley Center. I talked with considerable fervor about social equality, about Chicago as the city of broad shoulders, the melting pot of the Midwest with one hundred-plus diverse neighborhoods.

I was not reluctant to let my own earnest enthusiasm show. Sure, I was their “old dude” guide for the trip, but they listened and heard me. And I listened and heard them. We spoke for generations seventy years apart but the years melted away as we shared the Talking Stick and told our stories.

I wondered if the Minnesota ethos that nurtured these innocents would lose its influence in the years to come.

That’s where we octogenarians can come into play. We know the value (the necessity!) of volunteering, using our perspective and experience to guide the way for the generations that follow. Mentoring young men and women is the embodiment of doing precisely that.

I recommend it highly. You’ll impart wisdom and a demand for social justice to an eager group of students. And have a ball at the same time.

Here are a few volunteer opportunities to interact with our city’s teens that could benefit enormously from a relationship with a cool old dude.

www.chicagoyouthcenters.org/volunteer/ - volunteers introduce youth to new cultural, artistic, and academic experiences and inspire them and encourage them to dream.

http://createthegood.org/ - volunteer opportunities through aarp.

www.theymim.org/ambassadors/ - Young Masterbuilders in Motion, program to inspire, connect, and empower young adult orphans, adoptees, and foster youth alumnae.

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