Started in 1995 as a pilot project in five cities, Experience Corps has grown to include more than 2,000 volunteer members serving over 22,000 students in 19 cities across the country. John Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, introduced the idea of Experience Corps in a 1988 concept paper that discussed the creation of an institution that would mobilize the time, talent and experience of older Americans to revitalize their communities.
In 1995, Experience Corps was launched as a pilot project in 12 schools in Philadelphia; the South Bronx; Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; and Port Arthur, Texas. The first Experience Corps volunteers — then called members ‑ began participating in early 1996.
Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) served as the managing partner for this effort, working in close collaboration with the National Senior Service Corps of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and researchers from Johns Hopkins University. The Retirement Research Foundation and the Pinkerton Foundation also provided funding to P/PV for technical assistance to and research on the new pilots.
Shortly after the pilots were launched, Experience Corps began receiving help from two prominent national organizations: AARP, which assisted by sending recruitment letters to its members living close to Experience Corps schools, and Elderhostel, which provided free scholarships to older adults who volunteered with Experience Corps for at least a year.
In 1997-1998, CNCS provided additional expansion funding through the Seniors for Schools Initiative, which led to three additional sites in Boston; Cleveland; Kansas City, Mo.; and Leesburg, Fla. Also in 1998, Public/Private Ventures helped spin off Encore (www.encore.org) as a new nonprofit organization to focus specifically on developing Experience Corps. New sites included San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis; Phoenix; Baltimore; and Durham, N.C.
From 2005 to 2008, the Experience Corps network expanding to include Oakland, Calif.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; New Haven, Conn.; Tempe, Ariz.; Marin County, Calif.; and Evansville, Ind. In fall 2006, with funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies, Washington University in St. Louis began a rigorous evaluation of Experience Corps's outcomes for older adults and its impact on young children's reading achievement. The data showed Experience Corps makes a significant difference for both children and adults who participate. In 2009, Experience Corps became an independent nonprofit.
Experience Corps Today
In 2011, Experience Corps joined forces with AARP, the nation's largest organization for 50-plus Americans to become AARP Experience Corps. The new relationship supports the priorities of both organizations: AARP Experience Corps will be able to increase its ability to tap into the experience and dedication of Americans 50 and over who want to give back to their communities, and it will offer AARP members a new way to engage in one of their top service priorities — volunteering to tutor or mentor youth. Experience Corps fits naturally into the AARP family, as it supports the organization's priorities, reflects the legacy of AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus and helps meet the needs of AARP members.