Vivian Davis walks five or six miles every day in her work as a an AIDS/HIV outreach worker for the Peace Corps in rural South Africa. “I just get around town visiting with people, or go to the Internet cafe,” she says. “It keeps me healthy.”
Her routine isn’t out of the ordinary for a Peace Corps volunteer – until you consider that Davis recently celebrated her 80th birthday.
Most Americans think of the Peace Corps as a young person’s gig, but 8 percent of volunteers are over 50, an all-time high. Although fewer than 1 percent are over 70, more than 4 percent are in their sixties; Davis is the only volunteer over 80.
It’s no coincidence that more older people are signing up. In 2007 the Peace Corps began actively recruiting older adults through a program called Peace Corps’ 50+. The program was expanded in 2011 through a partnership with AARP that promotes Peace Corps at AARP events and through its publications. The Peace Corps also recently expanded a program, called Peace Corps Response, that may appeal to older volunteers. The standard Peace Corps program involves a 27-month commitment, and volunteers have little control over the nature or location of their service. The Response program offers shorter service opportunities – typically, six months.
Older volunteers are an increasingly valuable resource as the country’s age wave accelerates. The number of adults over age 65 has been increasing steadily over the past decade In 2012, 24.4 percent of Americans over 65 (10.3 million people) did some kind of volunteer work, up from 22.7 percent in 2002, according to a new report based on Census Bureau data from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that tracks trends and sponsors large volunteer initiatives such as Senior Corps and Americorps.