Create an internet-based knowledge bank for aging seniors that can be accessed first (pilot) by high school & university students conducting research, then allow access by other stakeholders! This will increase seniors' feelings of self importance.
Students across the country are regularly assigned-- or design-- research projects requiring certain amounts of primary sources or very specific and detailed information best retrieved via personal interviews with individuals who experienced the research paper's topic. Most students have a limited pool of individuals from which to seek assistance in this topic and, if they don't have a grandparent who fought in that specific war, spend incredible amounts of effort seeking out other individuals who can assist. But the seniors and near-seniors of America have expansive amounts of information, experiences, and opinions that these young researchers would benefit from if only they could find them. Furthermore, research has shown-- and propelled social services to address-- that senior populations' wellbeing benefits from feeling important and relevant to the younger generations and from dialoguing with them about their experiences. So why not combine these two needs?
The idea is to create an online searchable and interactive database using simple library search/community forum type technology to allow seniors to input information-- both written testimonials of various experiences and topics or simply "specialties" and contact info-- that is then searchable by anyone who needs that specific information. For example, a Vietnam veteran from a specific battle or unit could either write a full testimonial of his experience and "tag" it with keywords, or simply create a profile that "tags" him as a Vietnam veteran from x specialty with contact information. Then the 10th grader who is doing a project about that specific battle or unit can use the database to find profiles that match his needs. He can then connect to the senior via the site's messaging interface and either set up a phone, in-person, or email interview or simply ask follow-up questions via the message board. Seniors can engage in as much or as little conversation with the researcher as they feel necessary, and the student walks away with a quality primary source for his paper.
In this way, we increase the ability of students to conduct research rather than conducting subpar research due to a lack of resources or interest in reading old newspapers and we increase the feelings of value and importance among seniors whose own family members may be tired of hearing their stories. The research that is conducted and written from this system could be exponentially better in quality-- even among high school level students-- and could help create a much more robust and extensive national history and understanding.
One of the best parts is, this project would not rely upon an extreme amount of money-- once the site is set up and maintained, even volunteers could work with senior groups and living facilities to set up profiles and teach them how to use the site-- and the technology already exists to support it.
A Case Study Example:
I wrote my senior thesis on why sanctions against Iran won't deter their nuclear program. I conducted a lot of research by reading expert articles, analyzing polls of the Iranian public, and analyzing Iran's history. But my thesis would have been much better had I had access to Iranians who lived in Iran during different periods of their history-- the Revolution, Mossadeq's overthrow, etc. I didn't have access to this, though, because I don't personally know any Iranian immigrants and it's not something easy to seek and find within a one semester project. If this database existed, though, I could simply search for seniors who wrote about or listed Iran as a specialty topics and contacted them to ask a multitude of questions and simply listen to their personal narrative of those experiences. My thesis would have been much richer with personal content. Almost every project I was assigned in high school or college could have benefited from such a search function.