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AARP Issue Brief: Volunteerism

Background

AARP's commitment to volunteer service first grew from the vision of our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. From its very beginning, AARP has fostered national, state, and local volunteer efforts that have improved the lives of current and future generations.  True to our legacy of volunteerism, more than 9 million people are giving back through AARP today. 

Our members—boomers and their older counterparts—are ready and able to make a contribution to leave the world a better place. These "Experienced Americans" (age 44-79) have volunteered throughout their lives in their faith communities, local schools, Peace Corps, VISTA, Senior Companions, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels, and in many other ways. Today, these people want to continue helping others in their communities in a variety of ways.

Four in 10 "Experienced Americans" say they are very or somewhat likely to increase the amount of time they spend volunteering in the next five years. When asked about their motivations, most say they want to help people in need; many also say they want to stay healthy and active. Top areas of interest include tutoring or mentoring youth and helping older persons live independently. These and other data can be found in AARP's recent report, "More to Give."

By harnessing the power of Americans of all ages, we can play a role in addressing some of our nation's toughest problems. Volunteers have made important contributions in helping older persons live independently longer, helping people understand financial and work options, supporting family caregivers, mentoring and tutoring youth, promoting health, weatherizing homes, preventing falls, and other critical efforts. Additionally, volunteering and engagement have been linked with successful aging.

AARP has launched a major initiative to inspire millions more Americans to volunteer to help others in their community, through AARP and other organizations. 

Unfortunately, in too many cities and states across the country, the non-profit community does not have the capacity to absorb all the new volunteer help and support that is available. Many of our members, whom we have long guided to volunteer opportunities in other organizations, have not been able to find a way to contribute, because often, volunteer groups lack sufficient capacity and infrastructure to manage all the volunteers willing to help improve the lives of others. 

That is why AARP is calling for federal action to ensure that all Americans who have the ability and desire to volunteer can do so.

Legislative Action

The Serve America Act (S. 3487), introduced by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatchn (R-Utah), would empower Americans of all ages to solve key problems through volunteerism. One initiative, the Volunteer Generation Fund, would improve the capacity of nonprofit organizations to handle an influx of new volunteers by prompting innovation in volunteer recruitment and management and by promoting more opportunities for people to make a difference in areas of state and national need. 

The Cost of Doing Nothing

Congress has an opportunity to improve the volunteer infrastructure in this country—paving the way for millions more Americans to help those in need. If Congress fails to take action to harness the experience, energy, and desire of millions of older Americans, our nation will lose out on much-needed volunteer service. Failure to act will also deny those committed to serving America the chance to promote their own vitality.

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