Napier Initiative Connects Residents, Students

Teresa Wilson’s career as an activist for peace and women’s issues has taken her around the world. As a former representative to the United Nations and the Commission on the Status of Women, she’s traveled to places like Uganda, Australia, the Philippines and China – just to name a few.

Next month she’ll add Ecuador to that list as she journeys to the capital city of Quito to visit Rachel Conrad, a recent Pitzer College graduate working with farmers in the Dulcepamba watershed whose water rights are threatened by a large hydro-electric power dam.

Wilson, 86, met Conrad in 2013 through the Napier Initiative, a partnership between the five Claremont Colleges and Pilgrim Place, a CHHSM member and senior community in Claremont, California, for those serving in religious or charitable organizations. Wilson has called the community home for the past eight years and served as a mentor since the program began in 2009.

The intergenerational mentoring program pairs college seniors with older adults who have similar commitments to social justice, environmental sustainability and peacemaking. The initiative is named for two former residents, Davie and Joy Napier, who devoted their lives to working for world peace.

“It’s really wonderful to find that new, young energy that is more competent than me is carrying on some of the work I care about with such a level of dedication,” says Wilson, who once served as vice president of international programs for Peace Links, a national anti-war organization.

Pilgrim Place resident Janet Evans, who serves as administrator for the Napier Initiative, says the program is an excellent opportunity for both residents and students.

“The residents often have wonderful context for these students or know of something that can be exceedingly helpful to the students to expand their knowledge and expertise,” Evans says. “For the mentors, they get such a sense that their commitment is being continued.”

Resident Barbara Troxell, who helped launch the program, says it has opened her eyes to need across the globe.

“In our work with the students, through a lot of listening and interacting, we too have grown in our understanding of the wider world and also in the diverse ways in which younger people are thinking,” Troxell says.

Wilson agrees, saying that she’s developed several meaningful relationships with students who have tackled everything from a public debate project in Africa to mobilizing young leaders in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “Youth energy is available in a way that I don’t think it was when I was young,” she says. “These are very self-directed people who already know who they are and what they want to do.”

Mentorships are guided by the students and involve anything from occasional chats over coffee to frequent text messaging, Wilson says. The official program lasts the length of the student’s final semester, but relationships often extend much longer.

Mentors meet this month to begin planning. Troxell will then begin the work of matching a group of approximately 18 residents with the 2016 Napier Fellows.

Evans says she looks forward to seeing a new class of students and residents impacted by the program.

“It’s wonderful to say your experience can be useful to somebody,” she says. “To say you can help these students and encourage them and give them the confidence that a life that’s lived out of concern for social justice is a very worthwhile life to live – it’s very satisfying.”

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