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History of the AmeriCorps Senior RSVP Program

Through our nation’s most trying times, AmeriCorps has been there. Disaster response, the opioid crisis, academic achievement – these are just a few areas where AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers have made a difference in communities.

In 1961, the White House Conference on Aging called attention to the continuing need of older people for useful activity. One of the outcomes of the conference was the passage of the Older Americans Act of 1965. In that same year, the Community Service Society of New York launched a pilot project on Staten Island which involved a small group of older adults in volunteer service to their communities. This pilot project, named SERVE (Serve and Enrich Retirement by Volunteer Experience) was the precursor to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). The success of this project, which demonstrated beyond doubt the value of service of older volunteers, led to an amendment to the Older Americans Act, creating RSVP in 1969.

RSVP was launched in the spring of 1971 with an appropriation of $500,000 under the auspices of the Administration of Aging (AoA). In July of the same year, RSVP was transferred from AoA to the federal agency, ACTION, which has oversight of federal domestic volunteer programs.

In 1972, Congress increased the appropriation to $15,000,000 to expand RSVP nationally. A national conference of State Executives on Aging was sponsored by ACTION to solicit their ideas and assistance in developing RSVP projects within their states. Subsequently, the State Agencies on Aging received development grants from ACTION to assist communities to develop grant proposals for local RSVP projects, growing the program to 590 RSVP projects by June 30, 1973. By 1988, supported by federal funding of almost $300,000,000, RSVP had further grown to 750 projects with there being 6 RSVP projects entirely supported by non-federal funds.


In 1993, the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 created the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). This act lowered the age of participation in RSVP from 60 to 55 and eliminated a requirement that volunteers could no longer be in the work force, resulting in the name change from Retired Senior Volunteer Program to Retired “and” Senior Volunteer Program to reflect that not all volunteers were retired.

On April 31, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act which reauthorized and expanded national service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The bill included significant provisions advancing the Administration’s goals for national service, including:

  • A dramatic expansion of service opportunities for Americans of all ages, setting a path for increasing the number of AmeriCorps members to 250,000 by 2017.

  • A Social Innovation Fund pilot program to provide seed money and scale up innovative and evidence-based programs that leverage private and foundation capital to meet major social challenges.

  • Expanding eligibility for the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs.

  • Simplifying AmeriCorps program management, including through the availability of fixed amount grants.

  • Increasing the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

  • Strengthening agency management to support expansion.


In September 2020, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) officially became “AmeriCorps” in the first major update to the agency’s identity in a quarter century. As part of this rebranding initiative, all national service programs are united under a unified AmeriCorps identity and promoted under the AmeriCorps or AmeriCorps Seniors banner. This new branding does not change the national service mission, programs, or operations of AmeriCorps, but it helps raise awareness about opportunities to serve and elevate service at a time of growing need and demand. 


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