It's an old visual joke that dates back to the earliest days of comedic film: The boss calls for volunteers for a special assignment, and almost everyone takes a giant step backward, leaving only the raw recruits out front as "willing" participants.
Get Involved: Find volunteer opportunites in your community
That's certainly not the way it is with AARP Foundation volunteers. Time and time again they step forward on their own to help those in need. We're just coming out of National Volunteers Month, so I'd like to use this space to share a few words in praise of those who step forward for those we serve. Their work offers an important lesson about how we at the Foundation approach our own work on behalf of the vulnerable 50+.
We have volunteers working in all of our impact areas – Hunger, Housing, Isolation and Income --and in all of our programs. Quite simply, we couldn't operate without them. Tax-Aide's 6,000 locations would be empty space without the 35,000 volunteers who assist more than 2 million low-income taxpayers every year. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), BACK TO WORK 50+, and Finances 50+ all depend on trained volunteers to help older adults with job training, employment searches and managing their money.
Volunteer meal-packers are the lifeblood of Drive to End Hunger, and for two years now we've been using the assistance of Americorps VISTA volunteers to spread the word about SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and enroll more eligible seniors. The Campus Kitchens Project is all about student volunteers reaching out to food-insecure members of their communities, and all our other Hunger-related grantees depend on volunteers.
Related: Hunger knows no off-season
Volunteers place calls to foreclosure-prone older homeowners as part of the important outreach work of the Housing Solutions Center. Our grantees at Habitat for Humanity International are arguably one of the best-known examples of community volunteerism in the nation, but other Housing grantees such as ROC USA (resident-owned communities) are also fueled by the efforts of volunteers, many of them members of the communities they're assisting.
Mentor Up is another terrific example of a program being driven by volunteers, in this case young people who as part of their community service are sharing their skills and knowledge to provide technology and even nutrition education to members of their grandparents' generation. And what has made our Connecting to Community pilot program so successful? It's not just the free tablets and Internet service that are reconnecting isolated seniors with family and friends; the real secret to this program is the dedicated work of the volunteer trainers who spent countless hours patiently walking their students through the intricacies of a new way of communicating that initially seemed completely foreign, daunting, and even scary. I attended the graduation of one cohort group, and it's not going too far to say that there was a real bond of love visible between those volunteer "teachers" and their graduating seniors of whom they were clearly so proud.
Our volunteers step forward willingly to help the vulnerable 50+, and they deserve great praise for doing so. As we move forward, we want to help them step into new territory as well. It’s a lesson for all of us who strive to help others. We can all work on expanding our own vision of what it means to be of service.