Engaging older adults in high impact volunteering that enhances health: recruitment and retention in The Experience Corps Baltimore

J Urban Health. 2006 Sep;83(5):941-53. doi: 10.1007/s11524-006-9058-1.


Engagement in social and generative activities has benefits for the well-being of older adults; hence, methods for broadly engaging them in such activities are desired. Experience Corps Baltimore, a social model for health promotion for older adult volunteers in public schools, offers insight to such successful recruitment and retention. We report on data over a 4-year period in Baltimore City, Maryland, and describe a five-stage screening process implemented to recruit a diverse group of senior volunteers who would remain in the program for at least 1 year. The sample consisted of 443 older adults expressing an interest in and screened for volunteering. Comparisons were made with Chi-square and Fisher's t-test between those who entered the program and those who did not and those who were retained in the program. Gender, race, age group, and prior volunteering were significant in ultimate volunteer service in the schools. Overall, 38% of 443 persons recruited entered the schools; 94% of participants were over 60 years (p = 0.05) with a mean age of 69 years; 90% were women (p = 0.03), and 93% African-American (p = 0.005); 57% had not volunteered in the past year (p = 0.004). Ninety-two percent were retained in the first year; 80% returned a second year. Among the latter, 83% had <12 years of education (p = 0.001). Participants remained in the program for a second year of volunteering regardless of baseline MMSE score, self-reported health, and motivation for volunteering. In conclusion, it is possible to recruit and retain a diverse pool of older adults to participate in a high-intensity volunteer program, including non-traditional volunteers. Of special note is the success in recruiting African-American women and those with lower education, who may particularly benefit from health promotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Aged
  • Baltimore
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personnel Selection / methods*
  • Schools / organization & administration*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population
  • Volunteers / psychology*