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Grants To Enlist Older Citizens as School Mentors

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Seeking to tap the experience of an older generation for the education of a young one, the National Senior Service Corps announced grants last week to five cities to enlist Americans over age 55 as mentors and tutors in elementary schools.

The senior corps awarded demonstration grants totalling $875,000 for the new effort, dubbed the ~"Experience Corps." Five cities--Minneapolis; New York; Philadelphia; Port Arthur, Texas; and Portland, Ore.--will establish programs with help from a private company and Johns Hopkins University.

The corps is part of the Corporation for National Service, a nonprofit entity that runs several of the federal government's national-service programs, including the AmeriCorps project championed by President Clinton. The senior corps encompasses three programs: the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, the Foster Grandparents program, and the Senior Companion program.

The new program reflects both the rapid aging of the American population and the useful service older citizens can provide, said Thomas E. Endres, the deputy director of the senior corps.

Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Americans over 65 will increase nearly 75 percent, while the rest of the population is expected to decline 3 percent, according to the corps.

Communities must embrace senior citizens as a resource, instead of considering them merely a client group that must be served, Mr. Endres said. "It is a challenge for us to find ways to make the latter stage of life more meaningful, and give them an opportunity to give something back to this country."

Benefits for Service

The projects will place Americans who are 55 or older in elementary schools, for at least 20 hours of service a week. They will receive a stipend or other benefits, such as property-tax rebates, credits for education or health services, even frequent-flyer miles.

In Minneapolis, seniors will work with children in reading and math teams, and will run a parent-involvement program and an environmental-education project, said Richard J. Devich, the director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Greater Minneapolis, which will administer the program there.

Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based research and development company that focuses on youth-development, and the medical school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore will help create and evaluate the projects.

The announcement came last week amid uncertainty over the future of the Corporation for National Service, which would lose its entire funding under budget plans adopted by both houses of Congress. (See story, page 17.)

Nevertheless, Mr. Endres remained optimistic about the seniors-in-schools effort. The senior corps faces a $6 million cut in its $139 million budget, a small slice compared to some other federal programs on the chopping block.

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