Growing Experience Corps

Dates of Project: December 2001 through December 2010

Field of Work: Expanding the Experience Corps senior volunteer program

Problem Synopsis: Sustained relationships with caring adults can make a major difference in the health and well-being of children. Older adults, who are particularly well suited to developing these relationships, also benefit by helping others. Strong social networks and productive activity are linked with helping older adults stay healthy and possibly live longer.

Synopsis of the Work: From December 2001 through December 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded Civic Ventures to first expand Experience Corps, its program in which older adults tutor (with a focus on reading) and mentor kindergarten through third-grade (K–3) students in low-income neighborhoods in five cities (Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington), and then to launch Experience Corps as an independent nonprofit organization and continue expanding. RWJF also funded Public/Private Ventures, a research, public policy, and program development organization in Philadelphia, to evaluate the initial expansion from November 2002 through July 2008.

Key Results

  • Civic Ventures increased the number of schools and children served by Experience Corps and the number of volunteers. The overall program more than doubled in size; the five targeted cities tripled or quadrupled services, as measured by the number of students, schools, and volunteers.
  • Experience Corps established a national office in Washington to support the expansion and the national program network.
  • Experience Corps became an independent, nonprofit organization in January 2009.

    Experience Corps developed a five-year strategic plan, a national growth strategy, service delivery standards for the local programs (the affiliates), and project support standards for both the affiliates and the national office.
  • At the end of the 2009–2010 school year, 2,059 older adults were working with 20,667 children in 202 schools in 23 communities through Experience Corps.

After RWJF funding ended Experience Corps joined AARP while maintaining its independent nonprofit status, a move that will strengthen its operation and allow it to go to scale.

“All the data tells us that if a child is not reading by the end of third grade, particularly if they’re low income and minority, there’s an 80 percent probability he or she will drop out. With the drop-out comes a whole cascade of at-risk behaviors, including getting pregnant, going to prison, and joining gangs.” —Lester Strong, CEO, AARP Experience Corps

“Experience Corps was poised to grow. The one way to do that was to really make it independent.” —Lester Strong, CEO, AARP Experience Corps

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In '10 @ExperienceCorps boasted > 2,000 volunteers working w/20,000+ kids across 23 communities