AARP recently joined forces with Experience Corps, one of the nation’s most highly-regarded service programs, which engages older adult volunteers to help improve K-3 literacy in underserved schools.
See also: Help a child; Be a reading tutor
The new collaboration supports the priorities of both organizations: AARP Experience Corps will be able to increase its ability to tap into the experience and dedication of older Americans 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.
“AARP Experience Corps fits very naturally into the AARP family, by building upon the principles of service that our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, set out for the organization,” said Barb Quaintance, senior vice president for volunteer and civic engagement at AARP. “The group also has built an incredibly successful model, where kids and older adults thrive in a dynamic intergenerational exchange.”
“Reading levels of young children in America are in crisis,” said Lester Strong, current CEO of Experience Corps. “Almost 70 percent of our nation’s children reach the 4th grade unable to read at a proficient level. By joining forces with AARP, Experience Corps will be able to make an even bigger difference for our children, and at the same time, leverage the experience and dedication of AARP’s millions of members.
Experience Corps brings older adults into public elementary schools to help improve the reading skills of students from kindergarten to third grade. According to an independent survey, 96 percent of volunteers report they feel better about themselves and 86 percent report that their lives have improved since joining Experience Corps. “We see it as a big win" for the children, volunteers and all that are involved,” said Grace Rustia, Associate State Director of Community Outreach for AARP Pennsylvania. “Our volunteers tell us that there is a feeling of great accomplishment knowing you can make a positive difference in the life of a child,” adds Rustia.
Volunteers receive 15 hours of training before they hit the classrooms and additional training each month. Some tutor twice a week for a minimum of five hours, others more. Those who work 10 or more hours a week receive a small stipend.
Tutors sit side-by-side with students — individually or in small groups — sounding out words and offering encouragement. Early intervention is crucial: 83 percent of low-income fourth-graders nationally failed reading proficiency tests last year, according to the Kids Count Data Center from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In Philadelphia, where the program is entering its 16th year, the results are even better. Robert Tietze, the executive director for Experience Corps Philadelphia says about seven of 10 Philadelphia children jump at least one grade level in reading after working with the tutors for one year. The Experience Corps program currently serves over 2,500 children in the Philadelphia region.
Ways You Can Help
To qualify, tutors must be at least 55 and have a high school diploma or GED as well as a willingness to work as a team.
Find more information online for the Intergenerational Center at Temple University, which is the host agency for the program.
To join the 250 volunteers in Philadelphia schools, call 215-204-5302.