By Corita Brown, Ph.D. 

Photo by © Alex Harris

Encore.org sponsors a learning community for innovators who are testing or implementing strategies for engaging adults 50+ in the early care and education workforce. This blog post shares ideas discussed by learning community members. 

Decades ago, the Rainbow Intergenerational Learning and Childcare Center in Miami, Florida put two puzzle pieces together.

Staff at the organization — started by Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers (LHANC), a senior services center for low-income older adults in Miami, Florida — saw that older adults (often caregivers for their grandchildren) had wisdom, experience, the desire to transmit their cultural history and the need to earn income.

At the same time, younger, low-income, immigrant families in the area were in need of high quality, affordable child care and preschool for their children.  

The solution? The senior services center created Rainbow, a four-star, accredited childcare center where nearly all staff members (teachers, assistant teachers, food handlers, maintenance and clerical staff) are low-income immigrant elders.  

Engaging older adults in the early care and education of young children has all kinds of benefits — from creating a trusted, family-like feeling in early care and education spaces to decreasing social isolation for elders while providing income and a sense of purpose. 

But even those eager to try this solution hidden in plain sight had questions about how to fund it. Rainbow put puzzle pieces together here, too.

The center’s funding comes from private payments from families that use its services, plus a combination of public (federal, state and county) funds, including:

Senior employment for low-income elders (SCSEP)

Created in 1965, SCSEP is the nation’s oldest program to help low-income, unemployed individuals aged 55+ find work. SCSEP matches eligible older adults with part-time training assignments within nonprofit organizations. Participants build skills and self-confidence, while earning a modest income and enhancing their job prospects. 

The program pays older adults a minimum wage stipend to train at the center for four hours a day for six months. Program Director Annie Benedetti calls the funding a great benefit for the center and for the older adults. 

“SCSEP provides needed economic support for older adults who would likely would not have the financial means to train for the job without it,” she says. “And, at no cost to us, we get on-the-job training for our perspective employees. This gives us and the older adults an opportunity to try out the relationship and see if it is a good fit.” 

At the end of the training period, if it is a good fit, the older adults typically transition to a permanent part-time position at Rainbow.    

State subsidies to support school readiness for low-income families 

Every state receives funds from the federal government to support child care assistance programs. These programs — which may be called vouchers, fee assistance, subsidies, or use a specific program name — help families who qualify pay for child care so they can work or go to school. The state subsidies pay for a portion of the services, and the caregiver often pays for the remaining portion. 

In Florida, the families sending their children to Rainbow pay for services using the following supports: 

  • Early Head Start subsidies that pay 100 percent of the cost for qualifying families.
  • Voluntary Pre-K subsidies that pay for 3 hours a day. The caregiver pays for for the rest of the day.  
  • A state-funded child care food program that subsidizes meals for qualifying families.

While school readiness subsidies are traditional funding sources for many childcare centers, they represent a new income stream for the Little Havana senior services center, which had previously only pursued aging-related funding. 

State subsidies for those seeking degrees and certificates in early childhood education  

These subsidies are part of a statewide strategy for systematically improving the education, compensation and retention of the early childhood workforce. The subsidies are funded primarily by a state’s office of early learning.

The model is based on a partnership principle that involves cost sharing by the person receiving the scholarship receiving the scholarship, the sponsoring child care facility and the state program.

The state program has established agreements with local colleges that offer scholarships for workshops, conferences, classes and diploma translations. The subsidies also help fund certifications, degrees and stipends for books and travel. 

Participating employers agree to give participating employees a bonus or a raise upon completion.

It adds up. With help from these multiple funding sources, Rainbow Intergenerational can hire a workforce of older workers embedded in the community, who share a common culture, language, and neighborhood with predominantly Latino immigrant children attending the center. 

And the employees stay. Unlike many childcare centers experiencing high turnover, the older adults at Rainbow typically remain in their roles for years. “We are like a big family,” Benedetti says.  

Got other funding ideas?

If you know of other innovative funding strategies to support the engagement of older adults in the early care and education workforce, write to me at [email protected]

To join Encore.org’s national listserv of practitioners, leaders and entrepreneurs interested in ideas for engaging adults 50+ in early care and education, send an email to [email protected]