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Use of Senior Volunteers Shows That WisdomWorks

  • Published: 2010-10-28 : Author: National Council on Aging
  • Synopsis: National Council on Aging Program Uses Self-Directed Teams of Older Americans to Solve Pressing Community Needs.

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National Council on Aging Program Uses Self-Directed Teams of Older Americans to Solve Pressing Community Needs.

At a time when most nonprofits are trying to do more with less, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) has expanded its WisdomWorks program to help organizations solve some of the most pressing challenges facing their communities.

The WisdomWorks program promotes the use of self-directed teams of volunteers aged 55+ who help identify and address challenges and opportunities in their communities or sponsoring agencies. Not there just to stuff envelopes, these senior leaders utilize their years of accumulated professional experience to provide direct solutions to critical needs.

Self-directed teams began in the private sector more than 50 years ago in Europe and about 30 years ago in the U.S. as companies experimented with ways to increase productivity and enhance their competitiveness. NCOA has retooled this concept to help nonprofits build their capacity.

"In this time of scarcity, we have a valuable resource in older adults who are willing to share their years of experience and leadership," said Tom Endres, vice president of civic engagement for NCOA. "With the power of these self-directed teams, we can tap a natural supply of collective wisdom and help solve real-life problems in our communities."

"I don't have any words to express my belief in this model," said Linda James of the Family Resource Centers of Crestwood, Rochester, NY, one of the nonprofits utilizing WisdomWorks . "I wish I knew about this before. It has made such an impact on this program and on me."

Selected teams will attend a two-day initial training near Washington, D.C., participate in quarterly check-in calls, complete a brief project planning and budgeting template, and work with NCOA's Civic Engagement Division to monitor and evaluate their progress.

The following sites have received grants to develop WisdomWorks teams in their communities:

Under NCOA's Center for Healthy Aging:

The NY Capital Region OASIS in Albany, NY; National Tongan American Society in Utah; and Community Health Alliance in Humboldt, CA will use WisdomWorks teams to deliver the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP) to people with chronic conditions. Older volunteers will develop and implement strategies for sustainability; help recruit and retain leaders; and inform older adults about the benefits of the program by making presentations in the community and serving as patient advocates in primary care medical practices. Developed by Stanford University, CDSMP is a six-week workshop that helps individuals with chronic disease learn how to manage their symptoms and improve their health. For more information please visit

Under NCOA's Economic Security Initiative:

WisdomWorks teams at the Los Angeles Economic Security Center and the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona will help economically disadvantaged older adults receive one-on-one assistance to access the confusing array of services and benefits for which they may be eligible. The teams will support personalized economic casework being piloted in their communities helping with outreach and other challenges to ensure that as many low-income older adults as possible receive the help they need. For more information, please visit:

Under NCOA's Community Education Program:

Teams in Baltimore County, Atlanta, and San Antonio will support the dissemination of evidence-based health promotion programs, particularly CDSMP, which is designed to empower older adults to manage multiple chronic health conditions successfully. For more information please visit:

Under NCOA's Elder Voices for Economic Security Initiative:

The Family Service Agency of San Francisco and the Maintaining Active Citizens Area Agency on Aging (MAC, Inc.) in Salisbury, MD, will use WisdomWorks teams to enlist older adults in national and local advocacy campaigns to improve the lives of economically disadvantaged seniors. Older adults will share their economic struggles in video stories and participate in grassroots advocacy activities to urge Congress to take action on Older Americans Action reauthorization in 2011.

NCOA's Civic Engagement Division received funding from the MetLife Foundation to develop these WisdomWorks teams. Additional support is provided by the global pharmaceutical company sanofi-aventis for the Community Education Program, The Atlantic Philanthropies for Elder Voices, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation for the economic security centers.

More information on NCOA's WisdomWorks program, please visit

About NCOA - The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. NCOA is a national voice for older Americans especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged and the community organizations that serve them. It brings together nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government to develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults. NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently, and remain active in their communities. For more information, please visit

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