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Senior Volunteers: Serving Their Communities and Their Country

This is a guest post by  Erwin Tan, M.D. Mr. Tan is the Director of Senior Corps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that engages 450,000 older Americans in service to meet community needs.

Photographer: M. T. Harmon

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation by asking Americans what they could do for their country. Today, as many in the baby boomer generation approach retirement age, they are still serving their country, enriching their own lives in the process.

More than one in four adults ages 55 and older volunteer each year - that's nearly 19 million older Americans, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.  These older volunteers contribute more than 3 billion hours of service worth an estimated $64 billion to our communities and nation each year.

  A Lifetime of Skills and Experience

Older volunteers are finding ways to use their lifetime of skills and experience to make an impact on issues they care about. Whether they serve every day or a few times a year, older volunteers contribute to the health and vitality of their communities by meeting critical local needs - tutoring at-risk students, providing job training to veterans, supporting independent living, or responding to natural disasters.

Bob Topel, a veteran who lives in Wisconsin, was inspired to help young veterans when he saw a parallel between his own homecoming experiences and the challenges faced by a new generation of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Pat Miller of Montana first got into tutoring when she was invited by her grandchildren's teacher to work one-on-one with a student struggling to read and write.  On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, retired carpenters, plumbers, and electricians have formed the Handy Man's Brigade to help repair homes of elderly and disabled residents that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Engaging Older Americans Through Senior Corps

These volunteers are among the 450,000 older Americans who serve in their communities through the Senior Corps programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

For four decades, these programs - Foster Grandparents, RSVP, and Senior Companions -- have proven to be a highly effective way to engage millions of older Americans in meeting national and community needs and delivering lasting, meaningful results:

Volunteering is as valuable for the volunteer as it is for person or community they are helping. Through service, volunteers learn new skills, make contacts, and stay engaged in their communities. Equally important, more than two decades of health research demonstrates that volunteers ages 55 and older have lower mortality rates, greater function ability, and lower rates of depression and disease.

This week, we are celebrating the extraordinary contribution that older volunteers bring to our communities during Senior Corps Week. This week is a reminder for all of us - and especially those within the 78-million strong Baby Boomer generation -

that volunteering has no age limit, and that everyone has something to give.

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