- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

More senior citizens are volunteering and even more would do so if they were offered a small stipend particularly a prescription-drug benefit, a recent poll shows.
"The vast and growing older population constitutes this country's only increasing natural resource," said Civic Ventures President Marc Freedman.
"If we develop the kind of innovative opportunities capable of capturing their imagination and tapping their talent, it would constitute a windfall for our communities."
Fifty-six of those ages 50 to 75 are volunteering or planning to make volunteering an important part of their retirement, up from 50 percent three years ago, said the poll commissioned by the nonprofit, California-based group Civic Ventures.
It also found that an additional 21 percent would devote five to 15 hours a week or more to volunteer work if they were offered a stipend, such as a prescription-drug benefit, in return.
One in three older Americans would devote 15 hours a week or more if there were a stipend, and of that group, 40 percent said they would like that stipend to be a prescription-drug benefit.
Mr. Freedman suggested that volunteer programs like Americorps, which were tailored to the younger generation, should alter some of their benefits to appeal to older folks.
"For Americorps to become a truly multigenerational program, it might need more than one option as far as people's benefits," Mr. Freedman said.
Americorps members volunteer a certain number of hours per year and are awarded stipends to use for education. Mr. Freedman said while education money appeals to young people, health care is a priority for older Americans.
The president has proposed expanding Americorps and other national volunteer programs. His proposal, which doesn't include a stipend for senior volunteers, is slowly making its way through Congress.
But House Republicans are wary of it. Many do not like the Clinton-era Americorps program because they oppose the idea of paying people to volunteer.
Mr. Freedman said offering older volunteers help with their prescription-drug bills is not bribing them, but simply allowing them to devote a large amount of time to volunteering.
Mr. Freedman said the administration's Corporation for National and Community Service as well as many on Capitol Hill want to find ways to include seniors in the push for community service.
This year's Senate labor, health and human services and education appropriations bill would provide $5.4 million in fiscal 2003 for demonstration projects designed to enable seniors to give back to the community. The bill is awaiting floor action.
In the report accompanying the bill, the appropriations panel notes "traditional volunteer opportunities offer few creative outlets for seniors to share their unique skills."
The committee said it is encouraged by reports of retired doctors opening clinics and retired teachers setting up tutoring programs and would like to encourage more of this.
Mr. Freedman said the poll shows seniors' desire to volunteer has increased in the wake of September 11 and increased worries about the security of retirement funds. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said the country is in a time that is not so good or not good at all.
Yet 40 percent say September 11 has made them more likely to volunteer and 59 percent view retirement as a new chapter in life to be active and involved.
The survey of 600 Americans ages 50 to 75 was taken by Peter D. Hart Research Associates from July 22-31.

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