Resilience, care and giving were the main themes of Friday’s opening show in New Orleans. Many event attendees had helped rebuild and revitalize others’ lives through “New Orleans Reimagined” service activities on Thursday. On Friday, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and Hoda Kotb of NBC’s Today also saluted the city’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina seven years ago and shared their own stories of New Orleans.
“I fell in love with the people, with the music and with the culture,” said Emeril, a Massachusetts native who succeeded Paul Prudhomme as executive chef at famed restaurant Commander’s Palace. Emeril later opened his own first restaurant, Emeril’s, in the Warehouse District. “Dollar for dollar, this city still has some of the best food in the world.”
Now in his 50s and at the peak of culinary fame, Emeril lives the “50 is the new 30″ mantra and still remembers his roots. “My mom was my first inspiration for food,” he said. “She inspired me to make my first dish – vegetable soup from our garden. My dad taught me about soil.” His parents, who live in New Orleans, may not have been thrilled when Emeril turned down a college scholarship as a percussionist but were supportive once they realized food was his passion. His dad said, “If this is what you want to do, follow your dream.”
As a three-year cancer survivor and a best-selling book author, Hoda also had a strong message for event attendees. “Joy is when you open your eyes in the morning and you are happy with who you are and what you have,” she said. “After surviving a tragedy, I realized that nothing can scare me. I can do this.”
AARP’s history and mission were outlined by Rob Romasco, AARP’s national volunteer president. He said recent achievements made possible by the collective efforts of staff and volunteers include $841 million in utility savings, 13 million meals for hungry adults through Drive to End Hunger and $1.3 billion in refunds for the 2.5 million tax filers assisted for free by AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers.
Barry Rand, AARP’s chief executive officer, introduced attendees to a new idea called Life Reimagined. “Empowering people to adapt and thrive in this new life stage requires a concerted effort on two fronts. It means we have to help society adapt to the millions of people entering this new life stage – and we have to empower individuals to adapt, as well.”
He said leading the fight for better health and financial security is essential to helping society meet the needs of the 50+ population. Barry urged members to share their views on Social Security and Medicare through AARP’s You’ve Earned a Say effort.
Karen Mills, who heads the U.S. Small Business Administration, saluted its teamwork with AARP to put at least 100,000 people age 50+ in touch with SBA’s vast resources to help them succeed as “encore” entrepreneurs.