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From COO Tom Nelson: Expand Volunteer Service Programs

Even as Congress is focusing on financial practices that have badly hurt our economy, the House and Senate are acting on legislation that speaks to what is best about America: a bill to substantially expand opportunities for community and volunteer service.

The G.I.V.E. Act passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House last week and the Serve America Act, which the Senate is expected to vote on this week, would increase civic engagement and create volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.  (Check out Senator Barbara Mikulski’s blog on the Serve America Act at

We’ve heard a great deal lately about toxic assets.  By approving this legislation, Congress and the President can mobilize a very different kind of asset, one found in abundance in every community: the American spirit of service and generosity.

We know from talking to our members and from our survey research that boomers and older Americans stand ready to do more.  In the words of AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, people are ready to “create the good.”

A survey conducted for AARP last year found that four in 10 boomers and older Americans said they expect to increase the time they spend volunteering in the next five years.  The legislation approved by the House and under consideration by the Senate would enhance service opportunities for people 50-plus, so they can apply a lifetime of acquired skills to help remedy a wide range of needs in our neighborhoods. 

Recovery from America’s economic crisis will require not only timely action by our government, but also people taking the time to help each other.  AARP supports provisions in the House and Senate bills that will improve the capacity of nonprofit, service and philanthropic organizations to recruit, manage and engage more volunteers—including skilled volunteers—to help address critical and growing service needs.

The Serve America Act will:

  • Increase opportunities for students, working adults and retirees to serve;
  • Increase the role of social entrepreneurship in solving national problems;
  • Grow volunteer programs such as Peace Corps and Americorps to 250,000 participants focused on current national needs
  • Expand short-term international service opportunities.

AARP urges the Senate to “create the good” by passing national service legislation this week. 

Tom Nelson is chief operating officer of AARP.

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