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A Move to Expand Volunteer Ranks

Resource type: News

The New York Times |

Original Source


OLDER Americans who want to help solve the nation’s social problems will soon have even more opportunities to do so. Last month, Congress passed legislation that expands national and community service programs and includes provisions to attract adults over 55 to paid and volunteer jobs. President Obama, a former community organizer himself, is expected to sign the bill.

“This is the most inclusive and comprehensive national service legislation ever passed,” said John Gomperts, president of the nonprofit research group Civic Ventures, who consulted with Congressional staff members on the bill, which is called the Senator Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. “It represents an attitudinal shift in Congress — an important recognition that national service isn’t just for the young.”

The legislation, estimated to cost about $6 billion over five years, will increase to 250,000 from 75,000 the number of volunteer positions that AmeriCorps can administer. Those volunteers, ages 17 and older, would serve thousands of local and national nonprofit groups, public agencies and faith-based organizations.

The bill also creates four new service corps under the umbrella of AmeriCorps, specializing in health care, clean energy, fighting poverty and support for veterans. Ten percent of the money for AmeriCorps will be reserved for organizations enrolling adults over 55.

The legislation also establishes a separate program, a $1,000 educational stipend called a Silver Scholarship, for adults over 55 who serve 350 or more hours with a qualified organization, Mr. Gomperts said. That money can be transferred to a child, foster child or grandchild.

In addition, AmeriCorps volunteers age 55 and older who serve full time for a year would be able to transfer their education award, which would be increased to $5,350 from $4,725, to a child, foster child or grandchild.

The bill also creates Encore Fellowships matching those age 55 and older with public or private nonprofit organizations for one-year management or leadership positions. Just as internships help younger adults enter a new field, these modestly paid positions provide a bridge for professionals from the for-profit world to second careers in the nonprofit world, Mr. Gomperts said.

At the start, up to 10 fellows per state will be financed by a public-private partnership that pairs an $11,000 federal grant for each participant with matching funds from host organizations.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company