Mobilizing older adults for better early childhood outcomes
Oregon is a state with a deep commitment to its next generation. Early childhood education is championed by the Governor, embraced by the general public as a civic priority, and being addressed by many individuals and organizations. Yet each year an estimated 40 percent of children born in the state—about 18,000—are exposed to risk factors that adversely impact their ability to succeed in school and develop into happy, healthy, productive adults.
The issue is well-researched: A great deal of evidence indicates that certain interventions are highly effective for improving early childhood outcomes in diverse communities across the nation. There are clear ways to make a difference, but they require investment; the challenge is not figuring out what to do, but finding the resources to do it. The reality, though, is that early childhood education programs in Oregon—as in most American communities—struggle with limited resources to provide essential services. Waiting lists for programs serving at-risk children and families are common.
The Oregon Community Foundation has worked for more than four decades to improve the lives of Oregonians, including a central focus on promoting school readiness. By 2009, when the recession was hitting hardest, the gap between need and available resources had grown even more acute. With existing funds for early care and education in jeopardy and slim likelihood that new sources of sustainable funding would be found, the Foundation began looking for a creative way to work around the financial barriers. At a Foundation board meeting, someone wondered aloud about the state’s large pool of retired professional educators. Could they be part of a potential solution?
“We do have a large population of older adults,” says Mary Louise McClintock, Director of Education Programs at the Foundation. “Oregon is a place where people come to retire. We have a strong culture of volunteering, and older adults here are involved and looking for the same things others are looking for everywhere in the country.” According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the state’s over-65 population will grow faster than any other age group. By 2020, there will be 48 percent more people aged 65 and older living in Oregon than there were in 2010. Would it be possible, the Foundation wondered, to mobilize retired educators—and perhaps skilled older adults with other backgrounds—as a new human resource for early care and education providers? Could the generation entering retirement use its experience and talents to make a difference for the generation about to enter school?
The folks at the Foundation had the seeds of an idea—tapping older adult volunteers to help early care organizations better serve children and families—but what they did not have was a program plan. What kinds of roles would interest older adult volunteers? What roles would bring the most value and have the greatest impact? How would the existing early care system need to adapt to successfully integrate older adult volunteers? What kinds of investment would it take to make this idea a reality? With support from The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Community Experience Partnership, a national initiative to tap experienced adults to address important community issues, the Foundation began an 18-month planning period intended to answer these questions. They called their effort Boomers and Babies.
- The Oregon Community Foundation
- United Way of the Columbia-Willamette
- Knowledge Universe
- Juan Young Trust
- Oregon Volunteers (Oregon Commission for Voluntary Action and Service)
- Oregon State University
- Portland State University
- PGE Foundation
- Total population = 3.9 million
- 55+ population = 1.1 million (29%)
RESULTS (FIRST 3 YEARS)
- Nearly 1,000 boomer-age volunteers joined eight early child care and education programs in urban, suburban, and rural Oregon communities—including 700 new volunteers
- 21,616 contributed hours of service by boomer-age volunteers
- 3,000+ children served directly and nearly 7,000 indirectly
- An additional 2,000+ non-boomer volunteers provided 61,846 hours of service
- Eight funded child care and education programs hosted Boomers and Babies volunteers
- 34 providers joined in two learning communities to help leverage older adult volunteers
- Volunteers are helping to lower child-to-adult classroom ratios, offering parent education and supports, reducing administrative expenses, and more
- Developed comprehensive, free resources to help early care and education programs leverage volunteers (ready4volunteers.org)