Growing Bigger Better: Lessons from Experience Corps' Expansion in Five Cities
Publication Date: June 2008
The Experience Corps program mobilized the talents of older Americans by recruiting volunteers aged 55 years or over to improve student’s literacy skills. Starting in 1995 as a pilot project, the program placed teams of 5–15 adults in 12 schools in low-income neighborhoods. This report evaluates the success of the program as it received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies to expand in five of the 14 cities that it started in. This process, known as “scaling up” an initiative for increasing the numbers of people it serves, poses many challenges for organizations.
The evaluation, carried out by Civic Ventures, began in 2002 and concluded in 2006. Each site faced considerable obstacles in meeting its recruitment goals and in dealing with budget cuts and leadership changes in local school districts. However, the program went from operating at its start in 4 to 12 schools to being in 9 to 43 schools at its end. The number of volunteer enrollments increased almost five-fold. The report concludes that long-term sustainability remains the greatest barrier to future growth. In other words, policy-makers must be encouraged to provide public funds to support initiatives of this kind.