For more than 25 years Deborah Herman has pulled up a chair at Barbara McCoy's kitchen table in Columbia, Md., and helped the retired teacher fill out her IRS tax returns. Herman methodically sorts medical and banking receipts, all the while chatting it up with McCoy, now 87, about the two women's families and their lives. "She has a wonderful sense of humor," says Herman, 55, a certified public accountant. "We hit it off every time."
The friendship began serendipitously when Herman volunteered for AARP Tax-Aide—a program that gives free tax-return assistance to more than 2.5 million low- and middle-income people each year. But the bond quickly blossomed: when McCoy's vision began to fail, Herman began handling her bills. Then ten years ago Herman helped McCoy, a widow, move into a senior residence. More recently, Herman hung pictures and arranged furniture for McCoy after her apartment got a new coat of paint and fresh carpet.
The evolution was natural for Herman, a "good listener" and tireless booster for giving back—she even enticed her 21-year-old daughter, Rachel, to become a Tax-Aide volunteer.
The enthusiasm of people like Herman is, in many ways, at the core of Create The Good®, AARP's initiative to inspire Americans to make a difference in their communities. The philosophy is simple: everyone can do something, whether for five minutes or five hours. And Create The Good's Web site, makes "doing" easy, especially if you don't know where to begin. Just enter a zip code and discover thousands of service opportunities, from starting a walking group to helping your neighbors fight fraud. Visitors can even post their own ideas. And each month there's a new, easy-to-use "tool kit" that shows, step by step, how to organize prescription drugs, for example, or weatherize a home to save energy. Those kits, in turn, can be used to help others.
Already more than 9 million Americans give back through AARP every year—from volunteers who help promote driver safety through the CarFit program AARP cosponsors; to "e-advocates," such as Susan Klaessy, 65, of Marshalltown, Iowa, who lobby legislators online for critical consumer reforms; to the thousands of people like Herman, who help out during the tax season and beyond. Herman says one do-good experience is all it takes to get hooked. "Once you get caught up in the spirit of volunteerism," she says, "the rewards just keep you going for life."
Michelle Diament is a freelance writer based in Memphis.