In 1958, retired California educator, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus founded the American Association of Retired persons (AARP). It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people 50 and over. They provide information and resources, advocate on legislative, consumer and legal issues, assist members to sere their communities, and offer a wide range of unique benefits, products and services for its members. Today AARP has over 34 million members, and they celebrate the attitude that age is not just a number but it is about how you live your life.
AARP’s business is serving people, and on December 6, 2001 they announced a Call to Service to all of its members. They wanted to aid their members in renewing their commitment to volunteer service in their neighborhoods and communities. The Call was issued to a broad audience that included national newspapers and AARP national publications. AARP invited members to ignite their commitment by calling their national toll-free number and creating member response kits to support people by informing them on what is available and how to best use their time and energy to address serious community issues. They joined with other national organizations and their local affiliates to offer a wider range of volunteer opportunities.
As a result of the Call to Service, an excess of 2,000 staff members, 50 chapters and hundreds of volunteers gave more than 6,000 hours of volunteer service. An excess of 20 schools nationwide received aid in reading, tutoring, mentoring and beautification or cleaning projects. Ketchum Elementary School in Washington, DC even received a visit from AARP President Tess Canja after losing a star student and dedicated teacher in the Pentagon crash. Due to the Call, thousands of meals were prepared and delivered to homebound persons, more than three tons of food was collected, sorted and packed for local food banks and pantries and hundreds of nursing home residents were visited and provided with entertainment. In addition, tens of thousands of articles of clothing, books and toys were collected, sorted, tagged and organized. A former crack house was transformed into a women’s shelter, an excess of 20 home building or modification projects were completed and 250 flag pins were made and delivered to veterans on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
AARP members are continuing to make a difference. They launched a new AARP/US Department of Navy project in Norfolk, Virginia to mobilize naval personnel to repair homes so that older persons can continue to maintain independence. In the wake of the September 11 tragedy, AARP also expanded its Grief and Loss Programs to help victim’s families. AARP is still working to update and share their program materials and expand their capacity to deliver peer support through trained outreach volunteers.
The December 6th Call to Service was a rebirth for AARP’s members but only the beginning of future community service opportunities. They are realizing the broader need of supporting nonprofit organization in communities across the nation because they face shortages of volunteers, supplies and funding. AARP will continue to inspire and motivate their members to participate throughout the year in efforts to continue to improve community life. AARP is daily living their motto: “To serve, not to be served.”