Thursday, December 08, 2005

Keep Working! For Free!

Corporation for National and Community Service to Launch Multi-Year Volunteer Recruitment Campaign at White House Conference on Aging

From the news release:

This January the first of America's 77 million baby boomers will turn 60. As they reach retirement age and have more free time, this generation will have a unique opportunity to change the world, much like they did in their formative years. But how do you convince 77 million Americans to get involved?

At the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), the Corporation for National and Community Service will unveil a multi-year public service advertising campaign aimed at recruiting America's baby boomers to volunteer. PSAs will begin running in January 2006 and feature a series of English and Spanish version television, radio, and print ads profiling baby boomers of different backgrounds. Boomers share their stories of how community service changed their lives and invite their peers to join them in making a difference.

Boomer experts will join White House Conference on Aging and Corporation officials to unveil the new campaign. New research about boomers and volunteering and the health benefits of volunteering will be released.

Great! If only those retirees would get up off their tired old asses and do some free work! Because lord knows they're not worth anything otherwise!

Don't get me wrong -- I'm pro-volunteerism. I volunteer. I've been volunteering since I was a "Blue Striper" (like a Candy Striper, but with more flattering uniforms) when I was in junior high school. I believe in the social value of volunteerism and believe it can transform the lives of the volunteers. That said, this "campaign" seems to miss an important point: Seniors already volunteer. A lot.

According to Independent Sector:

[A]lmost 44 percent of all people 55 and over volunteer at least once a year; over 36 percent reported that they had volunteered within the past month. These older volunteers give on average 4.4 hours per week to the causes they support. The 26.4 million senior volunteers gave approximately 5.6 billion hours of their time — a value of $77.2 billion to nonprofit organizations and other causes in this country.

Billions! Over 77 of them! Nearly half of people over 55 are already volunteering! So what's the campaign about, really?

With ongoing cutbacks in the nonprofit world, there is clearly a need for volunteers. Jobs that once were held by paid staff are now increasingly done by unpaid volunteers. These jobs include caring for the disabled, reading to children, holding babies in hospital neo-natal units. Important stuff. And without a major shift in cultural priorities, it's unlikely government money will again start flowing freely toward charities.

The Corporation for National and Community Service has four programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America and the Citizen Corps (analyzed here in 2002 by Bill Berkowitz). From their website:

Grants administered through Senior Corps provide funding for three special programs:

Foster Grandparents connects volunteers age 60 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs.

The Senior Companion Program brings together volunteers age 60 and over with adults in their community who have difficulty with the simple tasks of day-to-day living.

RSVP offers "one stop shopping" for all volunteers 55 and over who want to find challenging, rewarding, and significant service opportunities in their local communities.

Okay. Grants? So these programs don't pay the senior volunteers but they're getting grants? Oh and by the way, the Corporation receives substantial federal funding. (And coincidentally was voted by U.S. News and World Report a "Best Place to Work in the Federal Government 2005"!) So let me see if I get this. The Federal government pays nonprofits to administer programs that hire seniors as volunteers to work for nothing. I love America! Don't you? And how am I not a full-blown Libertarian by now?

(The nice folks at Americorps, by the way, are "partners" in the Bush administration's initiative, the USA Freedom Corps. So much to say about the Freedom Corps, so little time...)

Okay. So where was I? Right. The Feds are paying for a big fat, very expensive ad campaign to get retired seniors to volunteer when they're already volunteering at rates that far outshine any other demographic. What's next? The Initiative to Get Seniors to Vote?

In case you're wondering what other issues will be explored at the conference, here's a list of resolutions. If that list looks to you as if it was put together by CEOs of our nation's largest banks, then you are possibly as cynical as I am.

1 comment:

the therapeutic writer said...

Wait! You want the American government to pay seniors for their work? But that's so...unamerican! If they want to be paid, they should go into the private sector and get a real job and find those bootstraps!!!

[my eyes are going to get stuck if I keep rolling them like this]