Granite State Scholars — an inter-generational program being developed through AmeriCorps and “NH Listens” at UNH, plans to match volunteer high school graduates with seniors living at home who need companionship, general assistance and perhaps help with seasonal chores starting as early as next year.

The program could be a boon to generations often thought to be at odds, and a step toward creating age-friendly communities in ways that benefit both, advocates say.

As compensation for their service, high school graduates who volunteer for one to two years through the planned AmeriCorps initiative will qualify for reduced tuition at New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities. The seniors will benefit from friendly visitors who help them stay stimulated and socially connected, and potentially help with occasional chores.

Granite State Scholars is the brainchild of newly elected state representative Matt Wilhelm, 36, of Manchester, a former AmeriCorps volunteer and public administration graduate of UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy, who presented the idea at the university’s 2017 Social Venture Innovation Challenge.

Started in 2013, the SVIC is an idea-stage competition which inspires community members and students to develop novel and sustainable solutions to pressing social and environmental problems.

Wilhelm said, “If we can make college more affordable and help students graduate with less debt, I think they will be more likely to stay in New Hampshire” – a state burdened by an ongoing exodus of young people.

“Both young people starting out and older people struggle with isolation and depression,” Wilhelm said. This is potentially a way to boost inter-generational relationships, and to help seniors stay in their homes and young people stay in the state, he said.

Studies have shown that both young and older adults struggle with loneliness and isolation that can lead to anxiety and depression, which ultimately affects their health and quality of life, and helping others combats those self-sabotaging emotions.

Over the next year, the program’s proponents will hold planning meetings around the state, with the next scheduled for Dec. 17 at 10 a.m. the Berlin High School library.

The first gathering Nov. 26 in Durham brought together 18 business, financial, and community leaders, high school program coordinators, artists, and senior health advocates from Easterseals, the RiverWoods Group, N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, N.H. Alliance for Healthy Aging, and the UNH Center for Aging and Community Living to brainstorm the program’s direction, scope and design.

“By the end of this spring we hope to have lots of folks in New Hampshire, including students and older adults, shaping a new AmeriCorps program that will be launched and serve for years to come,” said Michele Holt-Shannon, director of NH Listens, a public policy initiative of UNH’s Carsey School. The program will create opportunities that will address isolation, shared purpose, and sustained community engagement — as well as three significant challenges confronting the state: a lack of accessible and affordable elder care, high in-state tuition and mounting student debt, and a dearth of connection between youth and older people, Holt-Shannon said. “It’s a win in so many ways.”

Anyone interested in attending and participating in the planning sessions should email her at michele.holt-shannon@unh.edu.

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Roberta Baker would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or (603) 206-1514. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.