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The National Service Bill: Funds for Older Adult Education

Nov 30, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

In April of 2009, President Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a bill that would triple the funding for AmeriCorps—and provide numerous opportunities for Americans to earn money for school through volunteer service. 

The law expands the existing educational stipend for all AmeriCorps participants from $4,725 to $5,500—the same as the maximum Pell Grant amount awarded to financially disadvantaged students.  It’s also expected to triple the opportunities available for people to serve and earn that stipend—including specific opportunities for nontraditional students.

Here’s an overview of who’s affected by the law—and your opportunities to serve.

Senior students

Included among the AmeriCorps programs that will be expanded under the new legislation will be the Senior Corps, a volunteer program geared toward those aged 55 or older, who are interested in helping their communities. Currently, Senior Corps offers service opportunities for approximately 475,000 senior volunteers who serve as mentors, foster grandparents, and aides providing independent living help to other seniors. Under the new legislation, opportunities for volunteering seniors will triple.

adult education

The legislation aims to attract and retain senior volunteers through the Senior Scholars program, a funding program offering $1,000 for those who give a minimum of 350 hours of public service. The award can be used to fund the volunteer’s own tuition, or can be transferred to a child, grandparent, or even an unrelated mentee.


In addition, the law will expand volunteer opportunities for veterans. The Veterans Corps allows returning vets to help their fellow servicemen and servicewomen to recover from the trauma of war and work to rebuild and improve their communities. In addition, the law provides additional support to education, mentoring and job training programs geared specifically to veterans.

College students

Both traditional and nontraditional college students will have expanded chances to serve through the program’s extended volunteer opportunities in a wide spectrum of fields, including education, clean energy, health care, and veteran assistance.

Conservation workers

Under the new bill, the focus of the National Civilian Community Corps will be increased to include environmental and energy conservation initiatives. The program will hopefully provide young students and nontraditional students alike with valuable experience that could lead to a career in the environmental services industry—which is expected to grow in demand for “green collar” workers in the coming decades.

This is significant, because according to recent studies, green service programs have a fabulous rate of return—often fro $1.50 to $3.90 for every dollar spent. For example, weatherization efforts returns about $3.71 for each dollar invested.

Green service programs across the US are already making an impact. Over a hundred energy conservation volunteer programs employ about 26,000 workers across 46 states.  And they’ve been making a difference. For example, the Montana Conservation Corps weatherizes and retrofits homes in low-income communities—and they’ve helped over 4,000 households so far. Under this bill, existing green service programs would be expanded—and new programs would be created.

High school and middle school children

In addition to seniors, veterans and college students of all ages, the bill also expands volunteer opportunities for kids. Under the new GIVE Act, a Summer of Service program will be implemented nationwide to give kids opportunities to volunteer during the summer. For each summer they volunteer, children will be given $500 to be applied to a future college education.  In addition, new Youth Engagement Zones in low-income communities will provide new volunteer opportunities for high school kids and out-of-school youth in these areas.

Americans have always had a passion for service. Under the new legislation, you’ll get more opportunities to earn grants toward your education and that of your family—and the funds available to each person will be expanded.  The Serve America Act strengthens the volunteer tradition in America and provides expanded opportunities for Americans to help each other—and make a college education more financially accessible at the same time.


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