AARP Foundation Experience Corps

AARP Foundation Experience Corps is an intergenerational, volunteer-based tutoring program that helps children who aren’t reading at grade level to become better readers by the end of third grade. Experience Corps empowers adults 50 and older to serve in their community by working to disrupt the cycle of poverty and make a lasting difference in the lives of America’s most vulnerable children by tutoring and mentoring kindergarten through third grade students in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Paul Simone, Executive Director, Quality Education Services, says that while improvement in reading is the primary goal of Quality Education Service’s  Experience Corps program, it does much more than that. “The Experience Corps model has measurable benefits for students, as well as positive mental and physical health benefits for volunteers who participate,” Paul said. By helping young students become better readers, Experience Corps seeks to ensure a lasting legacy of strong futures, supported schools and empowered volunteers.

Despite persistent efforts, nearly 40% of all American fourth-graders read below the basic level on a national reading test. The percentages are even higher in many urban schools. In Minnesota, there is one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. Studies have shown that reading ability in the third grade is a major predictor of future educational success – being a proficient reader by third grade dramatically increases students’ chances of graduating from high school. This is why this third-grade-reading milestone is the focus of Experience Corps.

The Experience Corps program has been in the Twin Cities since 1995, and requires a nonprofit host. Volunteers of America was the host for the first 20 years. However, there were changes in the strategic priorities at Volunteer of America, so it no longer was the right alliance for Experience Corps.

“We started our own nonprofit, probably foolishly,” Paul adds with a laugh, “to take on Experience Corps. Quality Education Services is the name of our nonprofit, and there is one program in the nonprofit: AARP Foundation Experience Corps. Some nonprofits have several programs – we have one.

“AARP adopted the Experience Corps program nationwide. Because volunteers need to be at least 50, it is a perfect fit for AARP,” Paul said. ”AARP brings a tremendous amount of networking and financial resources, and provides training and data analysis.”

When Paul started investigating options about who could help with the business aspects of the program, he turned to Propel Nonprofits, formerly Nonprofits Assistance Fund and MAP for Nonprofits, organizations he knew because of his involvement in charter schools for 15 years. “I called Propel Nonprofits and said I needed a back office,” Paul said. “The partnership was everything I hoped it would be. It is my entire business office. Propel Nonprofits is a cool plug-and-play partner providing everything I needed.”

Danielle Gangelhoff, Fiscal Sponsorship Program Manager for Propel Nonprofits, says Experience Corps is exactly the kind of organization that is a perfect fit for the Fiscal Sponsorship program. “The organization can focus on its programs and fundraising, and Propel Nonprofits provides the financial management, grants management, and human resources support,” Danielle said.

“Propel Nonprofits gave me the opportunity to do what I do best, which is run a program,” Paul said. “I did not get into this to manage the business of a nonprofit. My passion is not payroll, budgeting, 990s, and grant-drawdown reports. I got into it for the passion about mission and vision.”

Paul said that Propel Nonprofits specifically helps with the following areas:

  • Grants management, “which is the biggest and most important service provided by Propel Nonprofits,” Paul said, “because grants from the government are reimbursable grants, so you have to spend first and then get reimbursed.”
  • Monthly financial reports and reporting: “We have monthly board meetings, and the finance reports are plain and clear. I can have them at a moment’s notice,” Paul said.
  • Payroll: “I have 95 volunteers receiving a stipend or an AmeriCorps living allowance that I need payroll managed for. Payroll and HR are automatic,” Paul said.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Paul. His program is critical for both students and the volunteers who tutor them,” Danielle said. “In the short time we have been working together, Paul has been willing and eager to work together in building his organizational capacity. He is a perfect partner for us, and we are the perfect partner for him.”

As Paul begins his second year running his own small nonprofit, he said, “I absolutely plan to work with Propel Nonprofits going forward. There are economies of scale with Propel Nonprofits– there is no way I can match the services that Propel Nonprofits has to offer. I would have to hire at least 3 people to get what I get from Propel Nonprofits.

“The business side of a nonprofit is so important. I know I always can call Propel Nonprofits for a life line. What should I do about this? How do I manage that? Business expertise and insight is key to success when it comes to management of a nonprofit. I would not trust it to anyone but Propel Nonprofits,” Paul said.

Click here for information about AARP Foundation Experience Corps.

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