This post was recently featured in the VolunteerSpot #SummerofService blog campaign.
When Donna Berry, 60, stumbled upon Blackmon Road several years ago, she was stunned. She found a neighborhood teeming with children that had no running water, electricity or sewage. Outsiders had taken to calling it "Trash Pile Road."
Donna was astonished that minutes outside of her own neighborhood in North Carolina people were living in such dire conditions. She immediately took it upon herself to make a difference. Eleven years later, the organization she started, A Place for Hope, is now a thriving community center and under her guidance, it has brought water and sewer systems, paved roads, educational programs for children and adults, job skills training, recreational facilities and more.
Far, far away from Blackmon Road in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, military service members are struggling in dangerously hot climates. Like Donna, another intrepid volunteer Karen Stark, 63, was motivated to do more when she learned of the sacrifices of service members overseas. She reached beyond her community in Oklahoma to establish The HUGS Project, along with her husband, a veteran.
A "hug" is a cooling tie that can be worn around the neck. In the hottest temperatures, it can be a lifesaver, helping the troops avoid heat stroke as they battle extreme heat in heavy uniforms and gear. With donations coming from every state, and even from other countries, Karen's group has sent more than 1.3 million cooling ties, 250,000 helmet coolers and more than 400 tons of care package items to troops overseas since 2004. Her goal: to let every American serving in harm's way know that they are loved and appreciated and that they're not forgotten.
Donna and Karen are not alone. Baby boomers across the country are giving back to their communities in remarkable ways. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) 18.7 million older adults contributed on average more than three billion hours of volunteer service between 2008 and 2010.
This service adds up to more than just "feel good" opportunities- CNCS estimates this volunteer work has provided more than $64 billion in annual economic benefits to the U.S. At AARP we know the intrinsic value of volunteerism all too well. Not only is it a way to do good and feel good, the volunteer experience is a meaningful way to provide support while connecting people and communities on a very personal level. This is why the majority of older adults give back to their communities, and four out of ten boomers have told AARP they want to volunteer more.
That's why AARP established Create The Good a place for older adults to learn about service opportunities and share their experiences with others. It is a unique effort by AARP to help people 50+ find simple ways to give back to their community, whether they have five minutes, five hours or five days.
Create The Good provides how-to guides on anything from organizing back-to-school drives to creating community gardens, and allows individuals and organizations to post volunteer opportunities that are searchable by zip code.
Through Create The Good, we have heard hundreds of inspirational stories of service from older volunteers. Like Donna and Karen, each volunteer's dedication, courage and conviction has profoundly affected the communities in which they have served.
We are grateful for all of the volunteers who give so tirelessly of themselves to make this world a better place, and encourage you to join us online and in your neighborhood. Whether someone needs help at the community center, a "hug," or even just five minutes of your time-start at CreatetheGood!