AARP Experience Corps had its beginnings in a 1988 paper written by John Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and founder of the nonpartisan advocacy group Common Cause. Gardner's idea was to create a new institution that would mobilize the time, talent and experience of older Americans to revitalize their communities.
Ten years later, he met Marc Freedman, founder of Civic Ventures, the nonprofit think tank on boomers. Experience Corps was born.
Today, the program's 2,000 volunteers age 55 and older tutor and mentor students, mostly in kindergarten through third grade. They provide literacy coaching, homework help, consistent role models and committed, caring attention to 20,000 students. The program, which has won many national and regional awards, became part of AARP in September 2011. The program operates in 19 cities:
The Program's Impact
Experience Corps has been proven to improve academic outcomes and address the achievement gap. In the 2010 Annie E. Casey Foundation report Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters, Experience Corps was one of only two programs recommended in the report's resource guide. The report cites Experience Corps as a results-driven initiative that targets lagging readers in underperforming schools.
Independent research by Washington University in St. Louis found:
- Students who work with an Experience Corps tutor for a single school year experience 60 percent greater gains in two critical literacy building blocks — sounding out new words and reading comprehension.
- Experience Corps works for all students, generating similarly significant results regardless of gender, ethnicity, grade, classroom behavior or English proficiency of the students.
For many of these volunteers, Experience Corps is a means as well as an end. A recent Washington University study showed that participation in Experience Corps "motivates and enables older adults to become more engaged in work and community activities. Program participation can raise awareness about public issues, like education, and activate older adults to be more civically involved."
These findings are similar to those cited in the 2008 CNCS study Still Serving: Measuring the 8-year impact of AmeriCorps on Alumni. The study states that "AmeriCorps service spurs individuals to be agents of positive change in their communities after their service is complete." Therefore, civil service among older adults can be viewed as a means as well as an end, just as it is for young people.