Saluting Seniors in Service

By Bill Basl

A Senior Companion volunteer shares a laugh with a veteran in Missoula, MT. (Corporation for National and Community Service photo)

Older Americans have a special commitment to their communities

In my travels, I meet Senior Corps volunteers and AmeriCorps members from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. And every day I am reminded that the true strength of our programs lies in the diversity of our membership. Whether they are helping communities recover from disasters, giving students extra support in school, or helping connect nonprofit organizations to funding resources, older Americans who serve in Senior Corps and AmeriCorps demonstrate a special degree of commitment to the communities they serve.

Every year, thousands of Americans across the country engage in service through our programs. And it’s clear that our members ages 55 and older are a valuable asset to the national service family’s efforts to get things done for America.

While sometimes thought of as a program for young adults, AmeriCorps also engages many older Americans who have years of experience in the workforce.-Bill Basl

Our Senior Corps volunteers have experience as attorneys, engineers, military service members, entrepreneurs, and more. They transfer the skills and leadership abilities they acquired in their respective fields to their current capacities as mentors, tutors, facilitators, and organizers. By using skills they have gained over a lifetime, Senior Corps volunteers truly are making a difference for generations. 

While sometimes thought of as a program for young adults, AmeriCorps also engages many older Americans who have years of experience in the workforce. 

Along the way, the training our members receive helps them develop and refine new skills. Many of our AmeriCorps members who are over the age of 55 also have the opportunity to give their education award to their child or grandchild to help them pay for college.

For many veterans, national service provides a second opportunity to serve the country. Two years ago I met Jim Hastings, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War. Jim was the youngest looking 80-year-old AmeriCorps member I’ve ever met.  In addition to helping long-term unemployed individuals find employment and job training, he offered the wisdom that comes with living a long, productive life.  He did as much and at times, even more than his younger peers and served as a valuable mentor to younger AmeriCorps members. Today, Jim continues his service as a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

National service participants like Jim are making a powerful and lasting impact by tackling some of the country’s most urgent challenges. I commend the many older Americans who have signed up to serve our country through Senior Corps and AmeriCorps.

They have worked in the areas of public safety and health. They have helped bring individuals and communities out of poverty. They have strengthened educational programs and improved our environment.  The knowledge, skills, and life experience that seniors share will continue to be a valuable asset to the nation for years to come.

Bill Basl is the director of AmeriCorps. He previously served as the Executive Director of the Washington Commission for National and Community Service where he oversaw AmeriCorps programs in the state.  All this month, we are highlighting seniors in service as part the AmeriCorps 20th anniversary.

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