AmeriCorps Program Targets Members Ages 55+
Published March 31, 2012
In the Greater New Haven area of Connecticut, the Area Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut, the United Way of Greater New Haven, and the Hamden Public Schools have partnered together since 2007 to sponsor a local Experience Corps. Experience Corps is a national program that engages older adults in service to children as an integral part of the education strategy. Currently, there are more than 2,000 Experience Corps members in 19 cities across the nation.
Experience Corps - Greater New Haven recruits, trains, and places teams of older adults as tutors to students in grades K-3 in Hamden Elementary Schools Members serve an average of 10-20 hours per week helping students improve their reading and writings skills by working with small groups, in the classroom, and one-on-one. Members receive a stipend and educational award through AmeriCorps funding from the Connecticut Commission on Community Service.
Sheila Greenstein, Program Manager at Area Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut, oversees the 35 member Experience Corps program with the help of a part-time assistant. All members are 55 or older, must pass a literacy competency test, and commit to 12 months of service and a minimum of 300 hours of service. Members serve in teams of three at schools. During summer months, members serve reduced hours and participate in literacy related projects at summer camps, libraries, and special events. Members receive a stipend and, upon successful completion of their term of service, an educational award.
During the 2010-11 school year, Experience Corps members served at 15 schools, helped 272 students and assisted teachers in 60 classrooms. Eighty-nine percent of students receiving assistance from Experience Corps members improved their literacy score by four or more points. However, it’s not just the students that benefit. “Helping reduce the isolation of older adults in our community is important to the Area Agency on Aging,’ says Ms Greenstein. “Experience Corps provides an opportunity for older adults to give back to their community, stay active, and connect with their peers.”
A book exchange at a local Farmer’s Market is a service activity that also became a social activity for members. “Initially, it was to be a one-time event,” Ms. Greenstein explains, “I had to really sell the idea to members to participate.” After an overwhelming positive response from people attending the Farmer’s Market, member decided it was worth the effort and it developed into an additional benefit. It has become a weekly a gathering place for members to check-in with each other.
The Kennedy Service America Act of 2009 brought another benefit to Experience Corps members. The Act allows AmeriCorps members who are 55 or older when they begin their AmeriCorps term of service to transfer their educational award to a child, grandchild or foster child. “One member transferred her educational award to her granddaughter. The education award was only about $1000, but it made her so happy to be contributing to her granddaughter’s education.” Ms Greenstein also stated that some members transfer the education award to their children who are still paying down educational loans.
Experience Corps - Greater New Haven has been so popular that many of its current members have served the maximum four terms with AmeriCorps and will not be eligible to participate in AmeriCorps again next year. Despite not being eligible to receive a stipend or educational award, some members want to be able to continue the work they are doing. Ms Greenstein hopes to be able to incorporate a few non-stipend volunteer positions into the program next year.
Hats off to Experience Corps – Greater New Haven members and the great work they are doing in their community. AmeriCorps members, no matter their age, are getting things done!