Over 3 million seniors in the U.S. have limited English proficiency (LEP), which poses special challenges when attempting to access information and application assistance about benefits. In Chicago, Korean American Community Services (KACS) has been successful in reaching low-income, Korean-speaking seniors through the creation of a unique volunteer program called the Silver Giving Circle.

What is the Silver Giving Circle?

The Silver Giving Circle (SGC) is a network of trained, bilingual volunteers who help their peers to access safety net resources. KACS recruited volunteers through the network of Baby Boomers who had participated in KACS events, demonstrated an eagerness to volunteer, and were viewed as leaders in their community.

The first group of eight SGC members trained in 2012 had an average age of 67, had lived in the U.S. for an average of 28.5 years, and all had a bachelor’s degree.

What does the SGC do?

SGC members are deployed into the community to educate Korean-speaking seniors about the programs that can save them money, and to assist them in applying for those programs.

SGC volunteers undergo a highly interactive 8-week training program delivered via a series of eight 2-hour sessions. Training covers: volunteerism, MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Inventory), core public benefits, and community asset mapping. They also become certified State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselors. Graduates of the training then complete 80 hours of internship at KACS over a 4-week period. After their internships, SGC members are asked to volunteer 30-40 hours per month, primarily by providing enrollment or follow-up assistance.

Seniors potentially eligible for benefits are identified through KACS’s network of housing agencies, Korean churches, and via outreach using ethnic Korean media.

Volunteers with Silver Giving Circle

Volunteers with the Korean American Community Services Silver Giving Circle receive training certificates

What is the result?

In 2013, the SGC expanded, and now has 15 members. Last year alone, the SGC members helped over 120 seniors—100% of whom had limited English proficiency—to apply for benefits (including LIS, SNAP, MSP, and more) worth more than $500,000.

Additionally, the SGC has helped transform the lives of those who volunteer. Boomer members develop greater self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of belonging to the larger community.

Advice for others

Creating a Giving Circle and training volunteers is a time-consuming, yet rewarding effort. It is important to continually acknowledge the tremendous effort of volunteers, and keep them up-to-date on changes to benefits programs, so having a staff volunteer liaison is essential.

As a token of gratitude for the SGC volunteers’ time, KACS provides each active volunteer with a $50 gift card at the close of the program year. In addition, volunteers are recognized at a year-end volunteer appreciation luncheon.