When I was a child, my mother often told me a story about the Goates, her family’s neighbors when she was growing up. George Goates was a farmer who raised sugar beets for a humble living. The 1918 global influenza epidemic hit George’s community in the middle of harvest; in just six days, he experienced the devastating loss of four members of his own family.
Soon after building caskets and providing graves for his loved ones, George headed out on his wagon to harvest his crops. The harvest would be yet another huge feat required of a broken man and, making that feat even greater, winter had come early. The daunting task of prying each beet out of the frozen soil confronted him.
As he drove out towards the fields, he found himself having to stop—for wagon after wagon, all loaded with beets from farmers in the community, already taking their harvest to the factory. Demoralized all the more, he headed to his own field to salvage what he could.
But when he arrived, George saw something stunning: his own fields lay before him, largely harvested already. The beets in the passing wagons had been his beets. The community members (my great-grandfather was one of them, in fact) had banded together to help their neighbor in need. George wept. And looking up towards the sky, he said, “Thanks, Father, for such good neighbors and friends.”
We could use a little of that community spirit right now.
Those Most in Need of Community
As we face the modern pandemic together, the truth resonating from the story of George Goates and his community coming together to help someone in need echoes from the past. It particularly resonates concerning the situation in which many older adults find themselves during these times.
The unique plight for many older adults is that they are vulnerable twice over, as they simultaneously confront the health dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic and watch their retirement savings plunge from investment markets that have at times been in freefall during the pandemic.
In a sense, in fact, they are vulnerable not twice over, but three times. Unfortunately, perpetrators thrive during a crisis. By exploiting fears around COVID-19, perpetrators are able to swindle vulnerable older adults out of cash, tricking them into providing personal information, or making unsafe investments for health treatments. Like George Goates, they could use some good neighbors and friends standing behind them. They could use the support of some community members.
Community Coming Through
As a fierce defender of older adults, AARP is responding. It is working with those on the financial front lines, banks and credit unions, to create a community—and, in fact, these institutions are often a part of communities—that prevents the increased pandemic-related exploitation we are seeing and better protects older Americans.
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. As part of its efforts marking this important day, AARP is launching a timely upgrade to its award-winning BankSafe online training platform that helps financial institution employees identify and stop suspected financial exploitation. The BankSafe platform has already enabled financial institutions to better protect 7 million consumers and stop nearly $17 million from exploitation.
Now it’s poised to do even more during these challenging times. Launching in parallel with BankSafe’s second year of availability, the updated offering will feature a new section that includes interactive videos, scenarios and activities specifically designed to help banks and credit unions respond to exploitation trends identified as a result of the coronavirus. As has always been the case with the BankSafe training, the new section will help financial institutions act fast to protect the assets of consumers.
Updates to the course, including the coronavirus section, are a key part of AARP’s role in bringing together the financial industry to fight exploitation. As older individuals confront challenges unique to them during these times, they could use a strong community standing behind them—the kind that George Goates had behind him, back in the days of another great pandemic, a century ago.