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AARP AARP States Volunteering

Learning the Vowels of Literacy Volunteerism

By Lester Strong, Vice President & CEO AARP Experience Corps

As this generation of adults move toward their retirement years, they are reimagining their lives as never before.  Some are turning hobbies into small businesses; others are finding new “careers” as volunteers.  You may find yourself in this position. Though there are many ways to enrich your community and your life through volunteering, one of the most important ways you can give your time is in service to improving children’s literacy.

At this time, our country’s reading rates are alarmingly low.  Only 31% of all 4 th graders read at grade level.  Before 4 th grade, children are focused on learning to read, but 4 th grade is critical because it is when children begin reading to learn.  According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, roughly 16 percent of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time, which is a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

We need your help in order to change this statistic. As you plan your retirement, consider learning your “Vowels of Literacy Volunteerism”, and help kids learn their ABC’s. AARP and a number of other organizations offer programs to improve reading literacy in children who need your time and talents. Impactful opportunities abound.

As you look to open the next chapter in your life, consider these five “Vowels of Literacy Volunteerism.”

  • A is for access, specifically, early access for students: Children who receive basic literacy skills early in their education gain the tools to achieve in all areas of school. “Children who had Early Head Start, plus formal care at ages three and four (which, in many cases was Head Start)… had superior outcomes on measures of cognitive performance seven years later in fifth grade compared to those students who had any two, any one, or none of these early educational experiences,” said Amanda Moreno, PhD and Associate Director at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Childhood Development at the University of Denver. Those who do not learn to read by the end of third grade have a greater risk of falling behind. Children need reading skills to succeed, and you can get involved in programs which will give them those skills.


  • E is for education community: If you know professionals in the education community, like principals, teachers, or school administrators, ask them how you can be involved. If you don’t know anyone personally, most school districts have websites which list volunteer opportunities of all kinds, not limited to literacy volunteers.  Those who want to support children’s education outside the classroom can find opportunities in that way.


  • I is for Independent: You don’t need to be a volunteer to help kids read or to support literacy.  If you’re a grandparent, or a great aunt, you can help kids in your family by creating a love of learning through bedtime stories and letting them read to you.  You can also connect with your family’s children by sharing and discussing children’s literature— even at young ages, children can be instilled with a love of reading.  And don’t forget to consider using technology when sharing your love of reading.  Kids love gadgets; reading on one of the new e-readers or tablets can make all the difference.


  • O is for Organizations: Organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Reading is Fundamental, and The Children’s Reading Foundation offer volunteer opportunities in communities throughout the country. Each of these organizations provides impactful volunteer roles which can change the course of a child’s life. AARP Experience Corps is one such program, and is offered in 20 communities nationwide.  Experience Corps places volunteers age 50+ in classrooms to help children in grades K-3 with reading literacy. Check to find Experience Corps volunteer opportunities near you.


  • U is for YOU! You can be the catalyst for creating a child’s love of reading.  Whether you seek opportunities through your local school district, read with your family’s children, or get involved with a mentoring organization like Boys and Girls Clubs or AARP Experience Corps, your time and talents are needed by the next generation of readers.


So, as you plan your retirement, consider incorporating literacy volunteerism into your future.  Our children need you and you have so much to give. To learn more about AARP Experience Corps, visit us at  For other volunteer opportunities in your community, visit


Lester Strong is the Vice President and Chief Executive of AARP Experience Corps, which tutors and mentors elementary school children (K-3) who struggle with reading by utilizing the skills and experiences of adults age 50 and over. AARP Experience Corps serves 22,000 in 19 cities across the United States through a program recognized as the one of the most effective in-school interventions in the country.

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