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Hurricane Volunteer Support Fund
In the wake of the recent hurricanes, the Corporation is coordinating volunteers to assist with repair and relief efforts in areas affected by this devastating storm. Your donation will support volunteers in providing food and shelter, managing donations, helping victims get necessary assistance, and long-term rebuilding efforts.
USA Freedom Corps Partnering to Answer the President’s Call to Service

Monday, December 12, 2005

Office of the CEO


Remarks by David Eisner at the White House Conference on Aging, Policy Track Discussion on Civic and Social Engagement



Thank you, Ms. Hunt, for that kind introduction.

I am grateful for the chance to address the delegates to this historic conference and I am honored to speak alongside so many important partners for my organization. In fact, as Administrator McClellan can attest, there are Senior Corps volunteers all over the country right now helping other seniors to navigate the new web-based tool for Medicare and to select their new prescription drug plan.

Believe it or not, I also appreciate the chance to speak right after Ken.

He is a hard act to follow, but by talking about aging in terms of opportunity, Ken sets the stage perfectly for a discussion about how the aging of the baby boom generation is an opportunity for our entire society.

Let me start with the story of Joe Guarino, a volunteer with one of our programs out in Hemet, California.

Joe and a group of volunteers started a citizen patrol a few years ago to help support and supplement the local police department. The benefits have been tangible – crime, graffiti, vandalism, all down. More to the point people in Hemet just feel safer.

But consider this: for all the benefits to the town of Hemet — there’s also a benefit to Joe and the other volunteers.

Joe Guarino, after all, is not a baby boomer: he’s 93 years old.

The fact that Joe’s out directing traffic and riding in bike patrols when many people his age are in long-term care may have something to do with good genes, but if you ask Joe, he’ll tell you it has even more to do with his volunteer work.

And it’s not just Joe. More than 500,000 older Americans serve in our Senior Corps programs – helping disadvantaged children through Foster Grandparents, helping older Americans to live independently through Senior Companions, and serving a range of causes through RSVP.

And they’ll all tell you that two really good things are happening everywhere they go: American communities are made stronger, more just, and more whole – and volunteers themselves are made happier, better connected and more fulfilled.

Research tells us that they’re better off in other ways, as well: there are significant health benefits associated with the kind of meaningful activity and social connectedness that volunteering brings to older people. We’re talking about lower incidents of depression and attempted suicides, fewer strokes and heart attacks, fewer cases of diabetes, less high blood pressure and so on.

All of which – and this needs to be really clear – dramatically increases the individual’s quality of life, even as it dramatically reduces the costs and burdens to society: the cost and burden of care for that individual, and the cost and burden of whatever social problem that individual invested time and talent to solve.

And that’s why engaging the baby boom generation presents such a remarkable opportunity.

This is a generation that will have more years on this earth to make a difference than any generation that has come before.

So, as baby boomers approach retirement age, reinvent themselves, or just reach out, they have tremendous potential to improve lives in communities around this country. And they can improve their own lives in the process.

So “civic and social engagement” is more than a nice thing to do; it’s something that we, quite literally, cannot afford not to do.

And that’s the real reason I’m speaking to you today. You, here in this room, have a rare opportunity to shape the national agenda, the strategy, for how America manages aging in the first years of this new millennium.

I believe it’s time for that national strategy to include the imperative of engaging the baby boom generation.

So I hope you are all voting for resolutions 56 and 59 today. And, to help remember those numbers, think of it in boomer years: after all, the oldest members of that generation are 59 right now.

Let me spend a moment expanding on why America has so much to gain. You know the numbers – 77 million people – the most formidable generation in our history.

Well here’s a number that may surprise you: 26 million.

That’s the number of baby boomers who already volunteer – and it’s been rising steadily in the past several years. Boomers, in fact already represent the highest rate of volunteering of any age cohort.

The leading edge members of this generation were in their formative years when President Kennedy called on all Americans to ask what they could do for their country. And they have retained that underlying commitment to social idealism.

Now think about what that might mean for the nation.

If we can realize even a fraction more of that potential for service, we will have millions of human solutions to our social challenges.

And, in fact, President Bush has challenged us all to be part of the solution: after 9/11, he urged every American to contribute 4,000 hours of service during his or her lifetime.

Again, in boomer years, that would add up to a total of more than three million decades of service.

The possibilities are nearly endless.

Think, for example, about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Clearly, in addition to government and private investment, recovery is going to take the hard work of many Americans who will volunteer their time and talents.

In fact, we’re looking to baby boomers to take the lead …

Which is why, I’m proud to announce today that the Corporation for National and Community Service is awarding $4 million in new challenge grants – that will add up to $12 million with the match. These grants are going to six organizations providing relief in the hurricane-affected areas of the Gulf Coast – and they’re doing it by engaging volunteers from the baby boom generation.

And, across the rest of the country, boomers could be having an extraordinary impact in their own communities – preparing pre-school children to learn; mentoring and tutoring children living in disadvantaged circumstances; strengthening communities’ ability to respond to disasters; helping the frail elderly to stay independent; reforming our schools.

And, when you harness the kind of time, skill, creativity and pure volume of this generation against some of these social issues, the impact could be extraordinary.

So let’s talk about the challenges for a few minutes, because recruiting baby boomers as volunteers simply isn’t a status quo proposition.

Research shows that boomer volunteers demand more variety in their volunteering opportunities than other age groups. They want their service to be more meaningful, they want to see the results of that service more directly, they want to serve on a more flexible basis, and they really want to be explicitly recognized for their contributions.

They don’t want a lot of red tape, bureaucracy or rules.

Oh, and by the way, they don’t even like the word “volunteering.” And they really don’t like the word “senior.”

That certainly gives us pause, since my agency sponsors the single largest group of volunteer programs for adults over 55 – and it’s called “Senior Corps.”

But, you know, that’s the great thing about civic engagement – it can be flexible, and it can accommodate everyone. And, anyone can be motivated to care about life in their community – that concern is not restricted by race, gender, income, education, disability, or even age.

Martin Luther King said it best: “everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”

However, let me be really clear – getting boomers to serve is actually more about changing the way we do business – as non-profits, the private sector, and government – than it is about making convincing arguments to them.

Now, in this town, when you start talking about that kind of change, people roll their eyes. Every blue ribbon panel and commission talks about the need for reform. And it’s very, very hard to do – even when our most vital national interests are at stake. But this is a conversation we need to have if we are going to build a new national policy for aging.

We need to talk, for example, about improving the quantity and quality of volunteer opportunities.

And, to make volunteer opportunities more appealing, meaningful and fulfilling, there’s no shortcut to improving the actual management of volunteers. This an area where non-profits are significantly under-invested – both in staff-time and money. The same charity that manages its cash contributions with oversight of the board and the CEO will, way too often, assign a short term intern to oversee the volunteer contributions.

We have work to do on the public policy side as well, ensuring that we create the right climate, provide effective incentives and remove barriers.

The business sector has a long way to go in connecting their employees more fundamentally with the needs of their communities, and building the habit and practice of volunteering before people retire.

And, importantly, we need to undertake an even more fundamental change – a cultural change.

The fact is that all Americans, all our institutions – we need to change our perceptions of aging and our expectations for people over 55.

We have to learn to see older people as an asset, not a burden, and retirement as a time for personal renaissance and societal relevance.

Now, you might think that kind of cultural change is a tall order, but this is, in fact, something that’s already happening, as Ken Dychtwald made clear.

The growing prevalence of images of active, engaged individuals in their 50s and 60s tells us something. And although this shift today might seem to be mostly about selling products to the boomers, it’s not only about that.

Look next month, for example, at the socially engaged boomer celebrities who will be highlighted in a national campaign by The Harvard School of Public Health and Met Life Foundation.

Look at The Purpose Prize, which Civic Ventures is awarding along with $100,000 each to 5 social entrepreneurs who found new ways after the age of fifty to change society for the better.

And I’m proud to say that the Corporation for National and Community Service has also launched a national campaign – this morning, in fact. This multi-year effort, called “Get Involved,” is aimed at attracting baby boomers to volunteer service, providing new opportunities to serve – and at shifting public perceptions of the role baby boomers can play.

And I’m thrilled that dozens of national organizations – from AARP and NCOA to the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters – have signed onto this campaign, as have major companies like IBM, America Online, CVS and General Mills.

With that, here is the first public viewing of one of these new Public Service Announcements…

[60 second PSA]

That website again is

And, I should note that the people you just saw are all real volunteers– two of them are actually here. Carter, Ken – would you please stand up?

Thank you for being such an inspiring part of this campaign.

We hope our campaign will be a small, early part of a broader, successful effort to change the way Americans think about aging and to build boomer-based leadership in service that lasts 40 to 50 years.

If we fail in that task, we not only miss an opportunity for tremendous societal benefits, we miss an opportunity to lighten the societal costs and burdens of the “age wave.”

And if we succeed, we will leave behind a powerful legacy for all generations to come.

I hope we will have a chance to work together on a strategy for achieving the cultural and structural changes we need to see in order to start building that legacy.

Thank you very much.


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