John Mues wonders if the reason teenagers and college kids seldom hang out together is that they don’t often get the opportunity.
“Young people tend to be energetic and exercising, while seniors are often isolated,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Though he’s only in his 40s, Mues has lived a full life: tennis champion in high school, Naval Officer doing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, rural schoolteacher in his home state of Montana, graduate in business from the London School, and rancher running cattle near Fairfield.
Along the way, he has learned a lot from senior citizens, but he’s also noticed what kind of impacts they can have on society.
“After I got out of the Military, I spent a few years teaching at Fort Belknap,” Mues said. “And I saw, first hand, the power that tribal seniors bring. Whenever an elder would come into the school, everyone just settled down and showed respect. It was transformative.”
That power seniors had to command respect in a community setting stayed with Mues. “I think we have a lot to learn from tribal culture, especially in terms of what seniors bring to a community.”
Like a lot of schoolteachers in Montana, though, Mues had trouble making ends meet, and after an uninspiring year doing engineering (Mues is a certified Nuclear Engineer—a credential he picked up in the Naval Academy at Annapolis), he decided to go to the London Business School in England.
While studying there, he got involved doing pro-bono work for a start-up non-profit called “GoodGym.Org,” an organization whose mission was to reduce boredom and depression among senior citizens.
“It’s a really neat concept,” he said. “Instead of a young person going indoors to run on a treadmill, say, we’d see if they’d want to instead run a few miles to where an older person was maybe living alone and have a cup of tea and visit a bit, and then run back.”
According to Mues, the idea was to get visitors to isolated, and likely lonely, seniors in a way that made sense to young people who had a lot of excess energy.
The idea took off and is still going strong in England.
The transaction worked the other way, too. Seniors got an opportunity to contribute to the community.
Mues thinks the same strategy would work in Montana.
“We could be doing so much more to get seniors engaged in the community,” he said. “Expanding Medicare and bringing prescription prices down are important, but there’s just a lot of isolation of seniors in nursing homes, especially in rural areas, and we should be looking for ways to get them engaged in the dynamics of community.”
Mues emphasized the effect on the youth, also. He noted that young people need mentors, so the GoodGym program really worked wonders in both directions.
“I think about my own military career, and I ask, ‘Why wouldn’t we want to hear from seniors, from Vietnam Veterans, who are seniors now?” he said. “This connection to our past gives us perspective on what’s happening now.”
Mues considers himself fortunate to have done so much in his military and teaching experiences and would like to continue seeing at home what he witnessed abroad.
“I’ve been to over 60 countries, and I’ve observed, over and over again, a fundamental basis of respect shown toward seniors,” he said. “We’re the most advanced nation in the world, and I’d just like to see more of that here.” MSN