Encore Careers for America: Serve America Act Creates New Opportunities

A pilot encore fellowship program in California's Silicon Valley will be replicated nationwide as part of the Serve America Act.


"Older Americans who want to help solve the nation’s social problems will soon have even more opportunities to do so," The New York Times reports.

"The legislation creates for the first time a series of programs that will help direct retirees into new roles in nonprofit and public service, on the front lines and in management," adds The Wall Street Journal.

Media coverage of the Serve America Act reflects the growing nationwide enthusiasm -- born of both choice and economic necessity -- for tapping the talents and experience of aging baby boomers to tackle the nation's increasingly urgent challenges.

“This is the most inclusive and comprehensive national service legislation ever passed,” John Gomperts, president of Civic Ventures, told the Times. “It represents an attitudinal shift in Congress – an important recognition that national service isn’t just for the young.”

The legislation passed with large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. President Obama is expected to sign it on April 21.

Among the bill's most innovative features are newly created "Encore Fellowships" -- one-year leadership and management positions that are specifically geared toward helping people over 55 transition to longer nonprofit or public sector careers. The fellowships, 10 in each state, are one of the most innovative programs advanced by government in years. They will be available nationwide, with a maximum of 10 per state, for individuals age 55 and older who work with nonprofits and government in areas of “national need,” such as education, health, energy, the environment and poverty.

The fellowships include a stipend of at least $22,000, with government funding of $11,000 at least matched by the sponsoring agency or organization. In addition, training, leadership development and outplacement services are included in the program, which is modeled on a pilot encore fellowship program in California's Silicon Valley that is sponsored by Civic Ventures, publisher of Encore.org.

In addition to the new Encore Fellowships, the Serve America Act creates other opportunities to use paid national service as a pathway to a public service encore career. With at least 10 percent of all the AmeriCorps positions created by the bill targeted at people over 55, new and existing nonprofits are expected to respond with a surge of innovative ideas for tapping encore talent. Under Serve America, the total size of AmeriCorps is slated to grow from 75,000 currently to 250,000 by 2017, creating more than 25,000 positions a year for people who have finished their midlife careers and are looking for a second, or third, act.

Nonprofits expect the legislation, coupled with an economic downturn that has sapped retirement assets, “could help spur a commitment to national service not seen since the early days of the Peace Corps,” writes the Journal's Kelly Greene. More broadly, the experience may spur nonprofits to step up efforts to retain and recruit highly skilled older workers, she predicts.

That will take a little time. The Corporation for National and Community Service, which is charged with implementation, is still working out the details of the Fellowships and expects to begin accepting applications next year.

Other provisions of the Serve America Act would sweeten the rewards of national service with improved educational vouchers. In return for their year of service, AmeriCorps members over 55 would be able to use their education awards, increased to $5,350, to retool their own encore careers or transfer the awards to their children and grandchildren. For those not able to make such a big commitment, new $1,000 "Silver Scholarships" would be available to people 55 or older who contribute a minimum of 350 volunteer hours a year. Like the AmeriCorps education awards, these volunteers can use the scholarship for their own education or transfer it to their children, foster children or grandchildren.

The Journal's story highlighted several of the fellows participating in the pilot Silicon Valley Encore Initiative.

One is John Armstrong, 53, who quit his marketing job at Hewlett-Packard in December 2006 to volunteer with the Alliance for Climate Protection, Habitat for Humanity and other groups. He's using a fellowship to create a position coordinating communications and outreach for Environmental Volunteers, which teaches elementary-school students about environmental issues.

"My work here brings some focus to all the volunteer activities I was doing," Armstrong told Greene. "Now, I feel like I'm able to make a bigger impact."

After taking buyouts from Hewlett-Packard, Leslye Louie, 48, and Lyle Hurst, 54, both are working at Partners in School Innovation, which seeks to improve literacy in low-income elementary schools. "We were post-first career, in transition, and wanted to make a contribution. But we didn't have a structured view of how to make that contribution into a second career," Louie said.

H-P is a partner in the initiative, which is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Read “Meet Two Silicon Valley Encore Fellows” to learn more.