Picture of thank you notes written to Grandpa StanConsider an older person reading to a child and the considerable difference that the simple interaction and attention can make in the young person's learning and confidence! Now, consider what would happen if that supportive intergenerational bond connected them throughout the child's schooling.

This is the aim of Alpert Jewish Family & Children's Service (AJFCS) in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of the 10 demonstration sites in the Alliance’s Second Act for Strong Communities cohort. The organization has long seen the value of engaging the time and talent of individuals 50 years old and older, known as 'encore volunteers,' for their volunteer programs, intentionally harnessing the wisdom and kills of older adults. So, AJFCS recruited Stan, a known volunteer with a big personality, for its Second Acts school tutor program, which fosters intergenerational bonds between children and encore volunteers through classroom tutoring.

 AJFCS has developed a comprehensive plan to vet and integrate volunteers into the organization, which parallels but differs slightly from its employment process. The volunteers complete an orientation/training with the clinical director, where they learn the ins and outs of being a volunteer, expectations, and roles. They also are trained within their specific programs.

Having these processes, policies, and procedures in place before intentionally integrating older adults, and other volunteers, has ensured a smooth process for both volunteers and staff involved.

Steps to Consider when Launching an Encore Volunteer Program

  • Brainstorm Ideas Where Volunteers Might Help. Opportunities might include direct on-on-one interaction with participants; be more administrative in nature if data entry or filing is needed; or require specific skills or knowledge base if the organization is seeking assistance in areas like marketing, systems/infrastructure, or strategic planning efforts
  • Discuss with Program Directors and Other Involved Staff. Get their ideas for good volunteer opportunities and gain their buy-in.
  • Develop Recruitment Paths. Develop fliers, ads, and social media posts to attract possible candidates. Network with churches, libraries, clubs, schools, senior communities, places where older adults might congregate to develop referral sources.
  • Talk to Potential Volunteers. Inventory and assess their skills, abilities, and interests. Identify what motivates them and what kind of support will be necessary for success.
  • Familiarize Volunteers with Your Organization. Present an organizational overview including your mission, history, populations served, and scope of services so that potential volunteers can feel like a valued, knowledgeable member of the team.
  • Develop Application Process. Develop a comprehensive application, interview, reference check, and testing process, and clearly communicate the process to prospective volunteers.

Steps for Follow Up after Volunteer Recruitment 

  • Match Volunteers to Opportunities and Outline the Scope. Make them an offer that clearly outlines the commitment. Schedule any relevant site visits and consider hosting an interactive mixer with participants.
  • Conduct Training and Development. Create the necessary onboarding and training process. Engage new volunteers with veteran volunteers to ensure success. Possibly pair volunteers with buddies or mentors. Orientations should be hosted by the school, department, or site specific to the volunteer assignment.
  • Keep in Touch. Facilitate volunteer peer-to-peer discussion/support groups to share experiences, get ideas from each other, and provide opportunities for staff to provide ongoing training, support, and reminders of procedures/precautions.
  • Follow Up. Make sure the volunteer and the staff who work with them are both seeing the benefits of the match. Build in a plan B and some flexibility.
  • Celebrate. Volunteer recognition calls, cards, and parties are sure ways to keep them coming back and bringing their friends.

Adopting an Encore Volunteer Strategy

Because of the emerging success from the demonstration sites, the Second Acts initiative encourages all members of the Alliance network to consider intentionally integrating older adults into their volunteer recruitment, talent pipelines, and human capital strategies.

Consider what impact an older person, with experience, wisdom, time, and patience, might offer the youth you serve or how they might elevate your internal operations. Talk with your program managers and human resource staff to consider how encore talent can help your organization achieve its goals.

For more information on Second Acts contact Emily Merritt, director of Second Acts for Strong Communities.