As we kick-off National Volunteer Week, what words come to mind when you think about volunteers? Caring? Dedicated? Selfless? Perhaps all of the above? I’ll add two more . . . absolutely essential.
Every year, close to 60,000 volunteers contribute their time, skills and energy to AARP activities across the country. They expand our reach and power our social mission agenda, helping older Americans live their best lives. Simply put, we couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers.
There’s May in Hawaii who leads a team of fellow volunteers hosting monthly events like a Chinatown Walking Tour and helps organize a caregiver conference that attracts hundreds of participants every year.
Then there’s Charlie and Aimee in Georgia, who, between them, have taught more than 340 AARP Driver Safety classes to around 9,300 neighbors in their community, not to mention translating Driver Safety guidebooks into Korean!
Meanwhile, Carlos leads AARP Oregon’s Hispanic/Latino outreach efforts with a big focus this year on educating Spanish-speaking Oregonians about the state’s new payroll-deduction retirement savings program. In fact, the State Treasury office regularly calls on Carlos to help with their OregonSaves Hispanic/Latino outreach.
John is an invaluable member of the AARP West Virginia Capitol Advocacy Team. Leveraging his experience as a former state legislator, John played a lead role is AARP’s efforts to secure increased funding for West Virginia’s health insurance program for public employees and retirees.
Fritz is another terrific volunteer. He’s an attorney who shares his expertise with AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly’s Veteran Advocacy Project. Fritz comes to the office every week to advocate for low-income veterans on cases related to their VA pension benefits and debt relief.
And, across the country, AARP volunteers are critical to our work making communities great for people of all ages. The age-friendly initiative in Augusta, Maine, for example, wouldn't exist without Bob and Carol, volunteers who personally led the charge for their home city to join AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities. They generated media coverage, engaged with the mayor, city council and town manager, and now, two years later, they have completed an action plan. Bob and Carol understand that small things can make a big difference. One project they spearheaded was asking local grocery stores to install benches so shoppers can take a break or wait for a ride home. The next step . . . asking the city to put benches along popular walking routes.
These a just handful of examples. I couldn’t even begin to capture here all of the things that AARP’s volunteers do every day in collaboration with AARP’s state offices and programs like AARP Tax Aide.
What I can do is say THANK YOU for helping us fight for and equip older Americans with what they need to choose how they live as they age. And, while it’s important to recognize and celebrate our volunteers during National Volunteer Week, engaging and supporting them is one of AARP’s top priorities year-round. We hold tele-town halls twice a month to talk about different initiatives and get valuable feedback. Our “just in time” information tools ensure that our volunteers can stay up-to-date and spread the word in their communities. And, we provide learning and leadership opportunities to help our volunteers hone their skills, achieve personal goals, develop strong partnerships with our staff, and make the most out of the time they devote to their AARP activities.
So, on behalf of everyone here at AARP this National Volunteer Week, my heartfelt appreciation goes out to our caring, dedicated, selfless, ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL volunteer corps for all that they do.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.