If you’re looking for ways to give back to your community, you may have heard of AmeriCorps Seniors. This extensive volunteer program has opportunities available for older adults throughout the U.S. You can match your skills with a position that allows you to help others and stay active. Here are some details to help you consider ways to volunteer in your area.
What Is AmeriCorps Seniors?
AmeriCorps Seniors is part of AmeriCorps, an organization which began in 1964 with the Volunteers in Service To America program. VISTA works to help communities fight against poverty. In 1973, the organization initiated its Retired Senior Volunteer Program, along with its Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs. Today AmeriCorps has a mission to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. AmeriCorps Seniors engaged more than 170,000 volunteers in national service in all 50 states in 2021, according to AmeriCorps data.
What Do AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteers Do
Individuals who sign up to be a volunteer with AmeriCorps Seniors can use their expertise and strengths to help others or learn new skills and participate. “When they fill out an application, they can share their interests and what they want to do,” says Patricia Gilliam, an AmeriCorps Seniors program director of the Love Community Development Corporation RSVP program in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “We want to give the volunteers a high-quality experience, so if I don’t have a program that fits what they’re looking for I may reach out and help find a service opportunity that is a good match for them.”
Types of AmeriCorps Seniors Programs
AmeriCorps Seniors has three signature programs. They are:
— Senior Companion Program.
— Foster Grandparent Program.
RSVP. As one of the largest senior volunteer programs in the country, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program engages older people to address a wide range of community needs. RSVP volunteers recruit and manage other volunteers, as well as mentor and tutor children. They provide disaster preparedness, serve veterans and military families and help with food distributions to those in need, among other services. Volunteers select how, where and how frequently they want to serve. They might commit between a few hours and 40 hours each week.
Senior Companion Program. Retirees provide independent living support and friendship to adults and seniors with differing abilities. Most of the service takes place in the home of the adult or senior and volunteers tend to serve around 20 hours per week. A nominal stipend of $3.15 an hour is provided to help cover the cost of service for volunteers with incomes that fall within 200% of the poverty line.
Foster Grandparent Program. Volunteers provide one-on-one mentoring, tutoring and social-emotional support to children with special or exceptional needs, or who are in circumstances that limit their academic, social or emotional development. AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers serve in schools, early education centers, hospitals, juvenile correctional institutions or childcare centers. Volunteers commit to an ongoing relationship with the children and serve for an academic year or longer. A nominal stipend of $3.15 an hour is offered to help cover the cost of service for volunteers who have incomes within 200% of the poverty level.
Costs and Training for AmeriCorps Seniors
Each program provides any needed training and support for volunteers. Participants might have access to additional training that can enhance their experience or get them ready for other opportunities in AmeriCorps. There is no cost to sign up to be a volunteer.
Pros of Volunteering With AmeriCorps Seniors
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of volunteering with AmeriCorps Seniors involves the chance to help others in your community. “Throughout the pandemic, the positive impact (of) our AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers was demonstrated time and again in supporting their communities through safe, socially distanced and virtual service,” says Atalaya Sergi, director of AmeriCorps Seniors. “Volunteers have supported children by mentoring and tutoring, older adults living independently by providing wellness checks and vaccine education, and veterans by connecting them to local services.”
In addition to helping and befriending those in need, many volunteers find personal benefits. “It’s a great way to stay socially involved,” says Margie Zutter, executive director of RSVP of Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin, which was Wisconsin’s first RSVP program and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022. “I am proud to be part of this wonderful organization that helps so many older adults to stay active and connected with people of all ages.”
Cons of Volunteering With AmeriCorps Seniors
If you sign up as a volunteer, you’ll likely find yourself spending a number of hours each week involved in the program. “You have to be committed,” says Betty Ruth, executive director of RSVP in Athens, Alabama and president of the National Association of RSVP Directors. “You have to want to give back to the community you live in.”
If you need more income to support your retirement, finding a job may be a better path. If you have a health condition that doesn’t allow you to be active, it may be difficult to serve as a volunteer. For some people, there could be different interests that align better with their retirement goals, such as traveling or spending more time with family.
How to Join AmeriCorps Seniors
Individuals who are 55 and older can become a volunteer with AmeriCorps Seniors. “As we age together, there are opportunities for people of any age,” says Zutter, who recently saw a volunteer begin service two weeks before turning 102 years old.
To join, you can start by going to the AmeriCorps Seniors website. There is a pathfinder tool to find opportunities in your area. Once you find a program you’d like to contact, you can use the information provided to reach out. The representatives will walk you through the next steps to apply.
More from U.S. News