Millions of our nation’s most vulnerable children stand to benefit from a vast, untapped resource: The fast-rising population of Americans age 50+, whose longevity, vitality, expertise and knowledge represent a robust (and replenishing) natural resource.
We propose a call to action: Encore Service for Youth, which would complement and amplify the mission and message of groups like Encore.org, the national nonprofit dedicated to second acts for the greater good. Encore Service for Youth would be a nationwide initiative marshaling the talents of millions in encore service (national service in the second half of adulthood — the “encore” years’). Never before has the need been so great, with millions of vulnerable youth at risk of not reaching productive adulthood.
The policy and practice agenda we set forth below, adapted from a paper commissioned by Encore.org, can begin to transform the longevity revolution into a social revolution, benefiting Americans of every generation, today and for generations to come. At the heart of Encore Service for Youth is the goal of channeling millions of older Americans into service programs for a sustained length of time.
An Encore Service Year should be supported through public and private efforts, creating a purpose-focused corps of experienced adults deploying its accumulated experience to improve, among other things, early childhood education, child literacy and the transition of students from high school to either work or higher education. This year can also serve as a transition to an encore career — as it does now for many in Encore.org’s Encore Fellowships Network, working with corporations and nonprofits nationwide.
Never before has the need been so great, with millions of vulnerable youth at risk of not reaching productive adulthood.
Among our proposals:
Fully fund the Serve America Act: The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed in 2009 but never fully funded, would expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 positions by 2017 and explicitly target 10 percent of positions for people age 55+. In addition, the Act expands age and income eligibility for the Foster Grandparent program; creates the Silver Scholarships program, through which people 55+ can earn a $1,000 education award transferable to a child or grandchild and establishes Serve America Fellowships and Encore Fellowships.
Create innovative funding options for the Encore Service Year: Encore.org’s Marc Freedman has proposed that “individual purpose accounts” — tax-advantaged savings accounts to underwrite transitions to an encore career — could be modeled on 529 plans. Or Social Security could let individuals stop and start their benefits to fund a year of service work. Freedman suggests letting someone interested in a transitional service year start Social Security for a year at any point after age 50 and then suspend the payments the following year, to pursue an encore career. The person could be required to continue to work an extra year before resuming Social Security benefits.
Develop an Encore Service Year Exchange: The newly developed private-sector online Service Year Exchange facilitates the development of service positions for young adults and helps connect programs and participants. A similar exchange for Encore Service would accelerate the expansion of such positions and help encore-stage adults identify opportunities to serve.
Create encore-stage White House Fellowships: Founded in 1964, the prestigious White House Fellowships offer exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government for a year. We propose creating a similar program for experienced Americans, with a focus on youth-serving initiatives.
Redesign the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP): This federally funded training program for low-income, unemployed Americans over 50 should be revised to support innovative strategies helping low-income adults gain experience assisting vulnerable youth and bridging transitions to encore careers.
Harness intergenerational power: Programs where older and younger adults or youth serve together benefit all generations. More such efforts will counter increasing isolation and historically low levels of social trust. One possibility: Establishing an intergenerational service corps, where youth and older adults work side by side in pursuit of shared goals.
Make encore-stage service easier: Proposed policy changes include raising the charitable mileage deduction from today’s 14 cents a mile and providing financial incentives, such as free transportation, to motivate and reward service.
The Time Is Now
Experienced, encore-stage adults are ready to serve. And our times cry out for such a large–scale, community-based effort to help our most vulnerable youth reach their potential — and to rekindle the spirit of our nation, united in it commitment to the future and future generations.
Shirley Sagawa is senior fellow at Center for American Progress; president and CEO of Service Year Alliance and former managing director of Corporation for National and Community Service.
John Bridgeland is founder and CEO of Civic; vice chairman of Service Year Alliance and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.