2015 White House Conference on Aging

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Nora Super and others at Listening Sessions 2014

9. July 2015 15:13
by WHCOA Blog Contributor

The Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors and Our Nation

9. July 2015 15:13 by WHCOA Blog Contributor | 1 Comments

By Wendy Spencer, CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service

Three of the cornerstones for ensuring a healthy life as we age are remaining physically active, keeping our minds mentally sharp, and maintaining and building social networks. I believe these are also three benefits of volunteering.

As the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), I get daily reminders about the benefits of volunteering – especially from the senior population. And these volunteers are the backbone of the work the national service family does in thousands of locations across the country.

Seniors are serving and making a difference in our nation’s communities, volunteering to help through faith-based groups, schools, disaster response organizations, shelters, food banks, and countless other programs.

And the evidence suggests that volunteering and service also has health benefits for those performing the service. CNCS studies have found that older volunteers report lower mortality and depression rates, fewer physical limitations, and higher levels of well-being.  

Our agency engages more than 270,000 Americans in service each year through our Senior Corps Foster Grandparent, RSVP, and Senior Companion programs. Additionally, CNCS helps nearly 5 million other citizens get involved in service activities across this great land of ours.

Last year, more than 20.7 million older Americans devoted more than 3.3 billion hours to service to communities across the nation either as volunteers or by serving their families, friends, and neighbors. America’s seniors are a vital part of our nation, and their service is a win-win for everyone involved.

At the 2015 White House Conference on Aging on Monday, July 13, we will learn more about focusing on healthy aging and taking advantage of the opportunities of aging, like volunteering. More and more, older adults are seeking ways to maximize their physical, mental, and social well-being to remain independent and active as they age.

We want to help as many seniors as possible experience the benefits of volunteering and national service, especially those baby boomers like myself who still feel the desire to change the world. We encourage them to visit our Senior Corps site, learn more about those programs, and find volunteering opportunities in their community.

Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs.

Thank you for your interest in commenting on this blog. At this time, we are no longer accepting comments. If you are still interested in sharing your thoughts, please e-mail them to info@whaging.gov

Comments (1) -

Thank you, Wendy, for noting the multiple health and social benefits of volunteering in later life!

I'd like to add that older volunteers are also more likely to return-to-work after retirement and work longer. The extra years in the paid labor force can result in contributions to the national economy; bolster economic security and health among older adults themselves; and help shift social policies to leverage productive engagement longer into the life-span. Thus, there are very important ECONOMIC benefits to volunteering in later life for older adults, their families, communities, and society.

We just released a research brief, "Formal volunteering: A solution to bolster health and retirement security in later life" that provides more details of this longitudinal population study (www.bu.edu/.../...ter-formal-retirement_042715.pdf).

I also want to bring the nation's attention to vulnerable populations that have been under-represented in the volunteer pool: low-income older adults, people with health limitations, limited education, racial and ethnic minorities. These are populations that can benefit greatly from the economic, health, and social outcomes of formal volunteering. Thus, we need programs (such as those under the auspices of CNCS, SCSEP of the Older Americans Act, AARP's Experience Corps) to continue to expand opportunities to these historically excluded populations.

In our article in The Gerontologist, "Increasing opportunities for the productive engagement of older adults: A response to population aging" (www.bu.edu/.../...e-engagement-of-older-adults.pdf), we discuss the issues of inclusion, intersectionality of competing productive activities (work, caregiving, volunteering), and cumulative disadvantages that need to be addressed head-on. We identified several pieces of proposed legislation as policy solutions to these major concerns.

Overall, I'm in total agreement with your comments and strongly endorse your position. We encourage the President and Congress to bolster the Senior Corps volunteer programs and Title V of the Older Americans Act. Given the multiple positive outcomes of volunteering among older adults, I hope our legislative representatives understand that this is the time to strengthen national volunteer programs—for the benefit of older adults and society at large.

Additional research briefs by faculty at Boston University's WHCoA Working Group can be found here: http://www.bu.edu/ssw/research/current/whcoa/

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