The volunteers have matched St. Cloud elders and second-graders who read to each other, expanded fresh foods at an emergency food shelf in Lakeville, helped isolated immigrants from Ethiopia tap into Minneapolis community programs and created a website to help people reduce energy consumption.

They are part of a program called Evolve: Re-igniting Self and Community, started six years ago by the nonprofit Vital Aging Network to help train Minnesotans 50 and older to use their experience and skills to improve their communities.

So far, the program has trained about 225 Minnesotans in or near retirement to take on such projects.

This year, the Minnesota venture is expanding to Denver and Seattle, thanks to an $83,000 grant from the New York Life Foundation. And groups in Boston, New York and Hawaii are considering the program.

"People elsewhere have been watching our program for a while," said Julie Roles, a strategic planner with Evolve, who is working with organizers in Colorado and Washington.

"This has become a very effective way for people to tackle problems they see in their communities," Roles said. "These projects change people's lives."

In Minnesota, the next training program will begin in October and run monthly through May, with a goal of 75 participants statewide. Tuition is $750, but Evolve offers 25 scholarships that cover half the cost.

Classes will be held at St. Paul College, North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet and St. Cloud Technical and Community College. Organizers will hold nine information sessions about the program over the next two weeks in Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Brooklyn Park and Inver Grove Heights.

For more information, go to or call 651-917-4652. • 612-673-7253