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Civic Engagement Initiative

Background

A History of Using Volunteers

From its beginning the Administration on Aging (AoA) and its state and local networks of organizations and leaders have counted on volunteer support. Volunteers have been significant contributors to aging services network, serving at every level and in the delivery of all types of services. Each year about ten million older people use Older Americans Act services, whose delivery largely depends upon the efforts of half a million volunteers.

Volunteers help in many ways, including: assisting at group meals sites and delivering meals to the home-bound elderly; escorting and transporting frail older persons to health care services, to essential shopping errands and to other needed services; visiting homebound elderly to help ensure their well-being through regular social contacts; repairing and weatherizing the homes of low-income and frail older persons; counseling older persons in a variety of areas including health promotion, nutrition, legal and financial concerns; serving as nursing home ombudsmen to prevent disputes and to help ensure the safety and well-being of residents in long-term care facilities; providing homemaking assistance to frail older persons; assisting in senior centers, day care, and other group programs for seniors; and helping during disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent Midwest floods; and serving on the advisory boards of state and local aging programs.

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Older Volunteers Help in Aging Programs

Older volunteers have always been the backbone of programs administered under the Older Americans Act, and they play a critical role in efforts to modernize long term care services in communities across the United States.

Public attention to the civic engagement of older Americans has increased considerably in the last few years. At last year’s ServiceNation Summit, more than 110 ServiceNation coalition members, including organizations representing older person, presented a vision to unleash the energy of citizens on our most pressing social challenges by strengthening and increasing community and national service opportunities. One proposed strategy is to provide older Americans opportunities to use their lifetime of learning and skills to help address America’s challenges.

Older volunteers are in an excellent position to volunteer. In many cases they may have the time as well as the experience and expertise to help in a variety of activities. Recent research findings, documented in The Health Benefits of Volunteering: a Review of Recent Research, also demonstrate the positive relationship between health and volunteering.

According to a research brief by the Corporation for National and Community Service, TThe Baby Boomers generation – those 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964— represent a potential boost to the volunteer world, not only because of the sheer size of the generation but also because of its members’ high levels of education, wealth, and skills. Harnessing their skills and accommodating their expectations will be critical to solving a wide range of social problems in the years ahead.

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AoA Civic Engagement Activities

Authorizing Legislation:

Title I, Section 102 14 (d);
Title II, Section 202 4(c);
Title III, Section 373 (d);
Title IV, Section 417


The OAA Amendments of 2006 highlight the role of volunteers as a strategy to support and enhance OAA programs. The amendments:

  • provide guidelines for the use of volunteers at all levels in OAA programs;
  • provide for multigenerational and civic engagement demonstration grants that encourage community capacity-building involving older individuals and demonstrate effectiveness and cost savings in meeting critical needs; and
  • call for collaboration between the AoA and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in modernizing the way community-based organizations utilize older adults as volunteers

AoA’s long-range vision is to highlight the important role that volunteers, including older volunteers, play within the Aging Network and to provide them with innovative ways of using their skills and experience. AoA’s first steps in Civic Engagement include:

AoA Agreement with the Corporation for National and Community Service

AoA and the Corporation are working together to help modernize the way public and private non- profit organizations, such as community and faith-based organizations, utilize older adults as volunteers to significantly increase the number of these adults who are engaged in activities that address the needs of vulnerable populations throughout the United States.

AoA Grantees

The Aging Network’s Volunteer Cooperative

In 2010, AoA funded the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) for a three year project to create “The National Resource Center on Engaging Volunteers in the Aging Network.” This has been recently renamed “the Aging Network’s Volunteer Cooperative” at http://www.ncoa.org/. The Cooperative will help the Aging Network expand and use volunteers, especially Boomers, more effectively and develop AoA’s and the Aging Network’s leadership in civic engagement. The Cooperative is a partnership of n4a, AARP, the AARP Foundation, the National Association of State Units on Aging and Disabilities, the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration and the Corporation of National and Community Service. AoA will work with these organizations to expand the capacity of the Aging Network to engage volunteers nationwide.


The Cooperative will conduct research on civic engagement; develop communication and outreach tools to reach aging services leaders and volunteers across the country; create training programs and technical assistance resources for volunteers and volunteer coordinators; and identify and promote best practices.

The Cooperative builds on a previously funded project with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) to provide technical assistance and other support to local programs that can become national multi-generational and civic engagement models for using older volunteers in meaningful direct services, as well as administrative, technical or developmental activities. Nineteen local grants focused on: 1) older relatives caring for grandchildren; 2) families caring for children with special needs; and 3) caregivers of frail elderly.

Resources and Useful Links

For Professionals
The Administration on Aging is pleased to provide the following off-site resources to connect professionals with important governmental and nongovernmental civic engagement programs.

For Consumers
The Administration on Aging is pleased to provide the following off-site resources to connect consumers with important governmental and nongovernmental civic engagement programs.

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Share a Volunteer Story!

The Administration on Aging is celebrating the contributions of volunteers in a new Web feature. How has volunteering for your community changed and enhanced your life? We want to know! We especially want to recognize and share stories about the vitality of older adults in their many volunteer capacities. Here are examples from communities across the nation of how volunteers are making a difference. Remember: volunteering is fun and good for you!

If you would like to submit a story and photograph of an exceptional volunteer, please email Marla Bush at marla.bush@aoa.hhs.gov.

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