Experience Corps Baltimore: Exploring the Stressors and Rewards of High-intensity Civic Engagement

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Abstract

Purpose:

Experience Corps (EC) represents a high-intensity, intergenerational civic engagement activity where older adults serve as mentors and tutors in elementary schools. Although high-intensity volunteer opportunities are designed to enhance the health and well being of older adult volunteers, little is known about the negative and positive aspects of volunteering unique to intergenerational programs from the volunteer’s perspective.

Design and Methods:

Stressors and rewards associated with volunteering in EC were explored in 8 focus group discussions with 46 volunteers from EC Baltimore. Transcripts were coded for frequently expressed themes.

Results:

Participants reported stressors and rewards within 5 key domains: intergenerational (children’s problem behavior, working with and helping children, observing/facilitating improvement or transformation in a child, and developing a special connection with a child); external to EC (poor parenting and children’s social stressors); interpersonal (challenges in working with teachers and bonding/making social connections); personal (enjoyment, self-enhancement/achievement, and being/feeling more active); and structural (satisfaction with the structural elements of the EC program).

Implications:

Volunteers experienced unique intergenerational stressors related to children’s problem behavior and societal factors external to the EC program. Overall, intergenerational, interpersonal, and personal rewards from volunteering, as well as program structure may have balanced the stress associated with volunteering. A better understanding of stressors and rewards from high-intensity volunteer programs may enhance our understanding of how intergenerational civic engagement volunteering affects well being in later life and may inform project modifications to maximize such benefits for future volunteers and those they serve.

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