Last summer, Kayla Weems was thrilled to get a promotion to senior site manager at Jumpstart, where she would oversee several Los Angeles programs designed to close the kindergarten readiness gap. But with the new role came a host of new responsibilities, a feeling of being underwater, and an inability to find enough hours in the day.

“People would come to me with these suggestions of things we could do differently, and I would say ‘Great idea,’” Kayla remembers. “But I had no idea how to find the time to get anything additional done.”

The key to getting out from under? New roles for others in Kayla’s orbit, including a group of older, well-connected and highly skilled volunteers hidden in plain sight.

Last year, Kayla and her colleagues experimented with a new approach: engaging adults 50+ to help build the capacity of the Community Corps program, which engages older adults to support language, literacy and social-emotional learning with preschool children in low-income communities.

The Community Corps model has a long history of engaging older adult volunteers to work directly with children but had never engaged adults 50+ to play other roles.

To test the idea, Kayla and her team enlisted a few older volunteers as early childhood coaches, office management support workers, and advisory council members. It was a busy time, with a big annual celebration of volunteers and school partners coming up quickly.

“Every year, we say we should try to get more public officials and local leaders to attend these events,” Kayla said, “but we [local staff] really don’t have that kind of experience, and we didn’t know how to make it happen.”

Kayla asked the new volunteers on her advisory board for their guidance — and that’s when the wisdom of new roles for older adults came into sharp focus.

“One of the volunteers had a long career in policy and government relations, another had a brother who was a local assembly person,” Kayla said. They helped Jumpstart get three assembly people to the event who gave the schools beautiful recognition plaques from the city.

“We also scheduled another meeting with a local assembly person who has prioritized support for older adults in his district and wants to support our work,” Kayla continued. “He said he never knew we existed before.” And now? “Another neighborhood council member is providing us funding.”

“My experience with the advisory council was when the lightbulb really went off for me,” Kayla said, “and made the results [of engaging older adults] so apparent. Now I am a staunch supporter!

“Here is something we always wanted to do, and we finally did it just by leveraging leaders in the community who already have expertise in this. It has helped propel our organization forward in ways I never would have expected.”

Interested in engaging adults 50+ to help build the capacity of your program? Here are Kayla’s top three tips on how to get started:

It’s okay to start small. “In the beginning, we did a big brainstorm of how adults 50+ could help our program and came up with 15 different roles!” They started with three. “That made it more manageable,” Kayla said, “and helped us learn quickly and modify as needed along the way.”

Start by plugging the capacity-building volunteers into existing projects. “We already had an advisory council,” Kayla explains, “but we did more work to intentionally engage adults 50+ in capacity-building roles on the council. It’s easier and less effort when you can build on something that already exists and don’t have to start from scratch.”

Think of capacity-building volunteers as investments for your organization. “Don’t expect on the first day your volunteer arrives that your schedule will suddenly open up,” Kayla advises. “You have to invest some time and effort up front to really get the pay off.

“When I brought the capacity-building volunteers onto the advisory board, we changed our meetings from quarterly to monthly. This might seem weird that I began by meeting more often with people whom I wanted to take work off my plate, but it actually helped give me more touch points to assign roles and tasks and get feedback.

“In the end,” Kayla continued, “it took a lot more work off my plate than it added. This was sometimes hard to recognize when I was feeling so overwhelmed with my own work, but it was worth it in the end.”

Got a hidden-in-plain-sight challenge? Visit the Gen2Gen Learning Hub and check out the 10 Steps Guide to Engaging Adults 50+. Step 2 of the guide includes tips for designing roles for adults 50+ and a worksheet to help you identify potential capacity-building roles adults 50+ can play in your organization.

For more ideas, tips and best practices for engaging adults 50+ with children and youth visit iamgen2gen.org/learninghub