Experience Corps

Posted by Zach Maurin on August 6, 2008

Experience Corps has flourished more recently than ever. With baby boomers looking for more service opportunities rather than retiring, it’s hard not to share the same enthusiasm and passion as associate director, Amy Zandarski-Pica, and director of communications, Sarah Priestman have.

     Although a lot of hype has been released about the baby boomer generation and their recent desire to explore service careers, Experience Corps has been around much longer, serving as the “vaccine before the disease” as Priestman puts it. The reports and buzz about baby boomers has only happened within the last 18 months, while Experience Corps began in 1995—more than a decade earlier! Its initial concept was to meet the untapped pool of human capital: people over the age of 55. Originally, volunteers were “simply people who lived in neighborhoods where the need was highest. They didn’t necessarily have the skill to tutor, but they had the capacity. And Experience Corps channeled that.” 

    Now, with 2,000 members, 20,000 students and located in over 20 cities, Experience Corps can go in no other direction than upward. Along with goals to expand volunteer membership and city involvement, they eventually hope to assist and volunteer in more areas other than education. Because volunteers are found most successful in Experience Corps after 2 years of retirement, their model is bound to strengthen with time. Zandarski-Pica says, “Luckily, people continue to get older, which hopefully makes our model stronger.” 
    As vivid black and white pictures of volunteers spending one-on-one time with students hang from the walls of office, it seems more than appropriate to spend most of our time talking about the strengths that people 55 years and older offer. “People assume that this age group is ‘too old’ but this perspective will change. There’s an untapped level of intelligence and experience that America doesn’t know about yet,” reassures Priestman. In fact, 91% of principals surveyed in 13 cities reported that “Experience Corps provides support for attainment of academic standards” according to the PSA Study. The most obvious advantage that the 55 and older have is experience. However, it isn’t just work experience but rather, an experience that branches out to many other qualities and characteristics that younger people do not possess. 
    Along with professionalism and strong work ethic, experience offers many incomparable abstract characteristics that are unmatched by any other age group. “Experience gives…patience, a genuine hope and belief in the kids, commitment, professionalism, etc. The list could go on for days…” Moreover, teachers and volunteers truly value each other’s time and efforts. Zandarski-Pica laughs, “There have been a few instances where young teachers will ask for the volunteer’s advice and assistance because of the experience they have as older, wiser people. At the same time, volunteers never overstep their role in the classroom. It’s a genuine respect and valuable relationship that exists among them.”
    Yes, Experience Corps is growing at an unbelievably fast rate and their future looks more promising than ever. With the current election, seniors provide a way to leverage the skills and experience of a generation in retirement. Now is the time to tap into the pool of unused, unrecognized brain power and compassion that Experience Corps now channels.


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