AARP Experience Corps: A Win/Win Opportunity
When I was a child, I didn’t see my grandparents much. When I did, the talk was mostly about adult things. When I became an adult, and reflected on my relationships with my grandparents, I sensed that I had missed something. I had always felt somewhat intimidated by my elders. They seemed somewhat aloof and unreachable—in my mind, anyway.
My maternal grandmother, however, was an avid volunteer. She supported two great organizations, the Red Cross and Planned Parenthood. She also was an avid reader. I know for sure if she were alive today, my grandmother would be active with AARP’s Experience Corps; she would cherish her time with the children, as much as they would with her.
Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, a retired high school principal, founded AARP in 1958. The idea of the Experience Corps arose in 1988 from a concept paper written by former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John Gardner. The first Experience Corps pilot project was launched seven years later. In Fall 2011, Experience Corps merged with AARP, an obvious marriage that works. Both organizations focus on giving back and civic engagement. Deborah Stiller, Branch Director for AARP Experience Corps, District of Columbia, likes to quote Dr. Percy Andrus when she defines the meaning behind Experience Corps: “To be in service, not to be served.”
AARP Experience Corps asks their volunteers, all of whom are 50+, for a yearlong commitment. The tutors spend from five to fifteen hours a week at the assigned school, and serve as tutors and mentors, working under the direction of the classroom teacher. The commitment ensures consistency and presence, which is key to the success of each student.
“It’s all about the connectedness,” says Stiller, “which is such an important piece of this multi-generational exchange. The volunteers range from their fifties to their eighties.”
AARP Experience Corps tutors work directly in the classrooms, mainly in the inner city where extra help is too often lacking. They often become vital to the teachers who are dealing with overcrowded classrooms and bright, feisty kids who need attention.
AARP Experience Corps provides a win-win opportunity in nineteen cities (and growing!) across the country. Who are the winners? The volunteers, who may feel something is lacking in their lives; our overworked teachers, who always need support; and the children who receive extra help that can be crucial for success. An added, not so tangible benefit is that today’s children, who sometimes spend many hours without adult interaction, are offered the opportunity to learn respect, commitment, and compassion from these positive adult role models.
Right now locally, AARP Experience Corps is only in D.C., but plans to expand into Northern Virginia, parts of Prince George’s Country, and Montgomery County. A limited number of AmeriCorps stipends are available for the year’s commitment. “We are always recruiting, always looking for volunteers,” Stiller says. “Most volunteers come into this because they want to give back, but time and time again we hear from volunteers that their work has become a reason to get up in the morning. An incredible attachment happens. So it IS a win-win.”
If you or someone you know might be interested in volunteering, there are several ways to get more information:
- Attend an open house at one of the D.C. schools the Experience Corps serves.
- Visit the Experience Corps website.
- Call 202.434.6495 or email the DC Branch of Experience Corps at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a recruitment flyer and fact sheet. If you are interested in moving forward, Stiller’s staff will conduct a brief phone screening to make sure you have what it takes to serve in this unique program and what will be expected of you.