Breakthrough! Attracting & Retaining Diverse, Low Income Older Adults as Volunteers

Although research suggests that low income older adults are likely to benefit most from being volunteers, evidence also suggests they have fewer opportunities to volunteer. In hopes of providing attractive and accessible programs to lower income and minority individuals, the Corporation for National and Community Service formed Senior Corps, which offers opportunities to adults 55 and better with incomes twice the poverty level or below. A recent article examined the impact of Senior Corps’s Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs. This article looks at their ability to recruit and retain a diverse population, and looked at potential impact on participants.

These programs require 15 to 40 hours a week of service, and offer $2.65 an hour to help defray expenses. The survey found that participants in both programs were more than 80 percent women. Both programs were about 40 percent African American, and close to a quarter did not have a high school degree. The average length of participation was 6.2 years. These numbers suggest the programs are successful in recruiting and retaining a diverse population of lower income older adults, although options of greater appeal to men are needed. Evidence also suggests these programs may perform better than other volunteer opportunities at accommodating individuals with mobility disabilities.

The article compares participants in these programs with older adults at similar income levels in the national Health and Retirement Survey (HRS). This group included both volunteers and non-volunteers. The authors found that Senior Corps participants had much less prevalence of fair/poor health (16 percent) than either volunteers (24 percent) or non-volunteers (49 percent) in that survey. They also reported higher life satisfaction than both groups in the HRS. The reasons for the more positive outcomes for Senior Corps participants is not yet clear, but could be due to the significant number of hours per week volunteered in Senior Corps.

These successes in recruitment, retention, and participant health and well-being suggest not only that Senior Corps programs should be expanded to accommodate more older adults, but also that these programs can serve as a model for those looking to establish volunteering programs that include a diverse, low-income older population.


Tan EJ, Georges A, Gabbard SM, et al. The 2013–2014 Senior Corps study: foster grandparents and senior companions. Public Policy Aging Report. (2016). prw016 DOI:10.1093/ppar/prw016


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