“Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that really makes the fire.”
I have to preface my thoughts on the Mentor Up/Generations United Youth Convening with this short video, as it perfectly encompasses my feelings and energy coming out of the event. As someone that had previously only contributed to the Mentor Up cause remotely by providing feedback during its creation process, it was amazing to see the enormous amount of talent, energy, and resources put into its implementation.
Youth representing organizations from throughout the country poured into the AARP offices for training, empowerment, and collaboration towards projects geared at intergenerational work. In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect, and found myself mostly preoccupied with the anxiety of meeting so many new people at once. But that anxiety quickly subsided as I listened to the stories people brought with them – of the work they were doing in their local communities, what brought them there and why it was so important to them, and the direct impact their actions were having. In that respect this really was a weekend of stories.
And it was these stories that quickly became a source of inspiration. Each of the weekend’s participants, bringing with them the unique circumstances and experiences of their local communities to share with the rest of the group, were leaders in their own right. But they also served as “first followers” to their newfound peers by providing valuable feedback, motivation, and logistical support – all amplified by the range of ethnicities, geographical locations, and ages the members of the groups represented.
And for me it became a real call to action. If there was any way in which I could fill the role of “first follower” for any of these causes, I wanted in. I learned so much from everyone there and to be able to take even a sliver of that enthusiasm and passion back to my own community to further the cause of intergenerational work would reap rewards and success many times over. While as a fellow, my eventual volunteer activity is to be determined, I can now take lessons learned and look to my newfound colleagues for support. And most importantly know that my actions are part of a much larger nationwide movement. I can only hope that I find my own local “first followers” as I embark on this endeavor.
It was through the connections made this weekend that these individual projects and nonprofit organizations have become interlinked and unified under a single and more far reaching movement. In a way, Mentor Up and Generations United have served as the “first followers” for each of these groups, becoming the cohesive glue that holds it all together. It was very impressive to see all that channeled drive committed towards a common cause.
Likewise, I encourage anyone reading this to, when they see someone committed to the cause of intergenerational work, even in the smallest way possible, to lend a hand or provide words of encouragement. Because as Mentor Up continues to grow into a movement, its strength will lie in its continued wave of leaders and followers.
“When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”