New Study by Public/Private Ventures Reveals Rewarding Roles Older Americans Play in Supporting Urban Teachers
Philadelphia “” In spite of the millions of baby boomers beginning to reach retirement age and the increasing need for volunteers to fill critical roles in their communities, meaningful opportunities for seniors to engage in service remain limited. A new report, Rewards of Giving: An In-depth Study of Older Adults’ Volunteer Experiences in Urban Elementary Schools, mines the experiences of a group of older volunteers and produces lessons about how to run high-quality programs that make the most of older adults’ time and talents.
The study, conducted by a nonprofit research and policy organization, Public/Private Ventures, focuses on Experience Corps, a national service program that recruits, trains and places teams of adults over 55 as tutors and mentors in underserved urban elementary schools. Based on in-depth interviews with 43 Experience Corps members in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, the research illuminates individuals’ motivations to volunteer, the challenges and rewards they experience through civic engagement, and key program supports that contribute to meaningful service.
“With graduation rates in most of America’s largest cities lying below 55 percent, there’s no doubt about the importance of investing in programs like Experience Corps that encourage older Americans to keep contributing to our social institutions and communities,” says P/PV President Fred Davie.
“As policymakers think about the aging of America,” Davie continued, “this study provides critical information and insights about why service-based programs should be part of the equation and what practices stand to make them successful.”
The report found:
1) Volunteers were motivated to serve. Experience Corps members shared a deep belief in the importance of helping others, which stemmed from religious convictions, family values and personal history. They sought community service as a way to improve the quality of their own lives, embracing it as an opportunity for meaningful “work” or as a reprieve from loneliness or loss. For some, the availability of a program stipend (received by three quarters of the sample) was an important source of financial support. As one volunteer stated:
“It’s like a dream, the final phase of my life, something I wanted to do years and years and years ago. To walk into (that school) and be a part of the class, it was a fulfillment.”
2) Volunteers enjoyed the challenges and rewards of service. Experience Corps members reaped powerful rewards as they worked to meet the day-to-day challenges of teaching children to read. Many gained a stronger sense of meaning and purpose from watching children’s progress and from the belief that they were contributing to the well-being of future generations. Others appreciated the mental challenge of learning new skills, and many discussed the value of developing friendships with other volunteers. In light of growing research that touts the importance of ongoing physical, mental and social activity as people age, Experience Corps provides a valuable model.
“You feel so good about yourself again… The biggest reward is…knowing that you are important and needed and that you do make a difference to somebody.”
3) Training, teamwork and day-to-day support are critical to success. Training and day-to-day guidance from a program coordinator, team environments that enable participants to forge collegial relationships and support one another throughout the school day, and ongoing support provided by teachers and principles were cited by Experience Corps members as keys to the program’s success.
The full report is available for free downloading at http://www.ppv.org/ppv/publications/assets/201_publication.pdf.
Rewards of Giving was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, www.rwjf.org.
Public/Private Ventures, www.ppv.org, is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the effectiveness of social policies, programs and community initiatives.
Experience Corps, www.experiencecorps.org, offers new adventures in service for Americans over 55. Soon to be in 19 cities, Experience Corps works to solve serious social problems, beginning with literacy. Today nearly 2,000 Corps members work in urban public schools and after-school programs, teaching children to read and develop the confidence and skills to succeed in school and in life.