When AARP Michigan asked Gurtie Crater to help connect her Jackson County neighbors to the association's many programs and benefits, she quickly agreed.
She saw it as an opportunity to let them know that AARP is more than "a place to get a discount on your insurance."
See also: Volunteer with AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.
One year into AARP Michigan's community presence program, which aims to raise membership, volunteerism and awareness of AARP services, Crater thinks she's made a difference.
By networking at church, community meetings and elsewhere, Crater is building a new audience for programs such as Fraud Fighter College and You've Earned a Say, a series of community conversations about the future of Social Security and Medicare.
"People say, 'AARP does all that?' " said Crater, 70. "And I say, 'Yes. I was surprised myself.' "
Making connections through active individuals is a key part of AARP Michigan's three-year community presence effort, which kicked off in 2011 and targets Jackson County, Grand Rapids and Lansing.
"We have 1.4 million members in Michigan — and a staff of just 13 people," said Lisa D. Cooper, advocacy manager for AARP Michigan.
"There is no way we can reach out to everyone. If we can develop a strong volunteer network across the state, we can engage with more people in more meaningful ways."
At 160,000 residents, Jackson County is the 14th-largest Michigan county. Cooper said the area was selected because of its demographics.
"The city has an urban core, but the surrounding community is rural and agricultural," she said. "Politically the area tends to swing between liberal and conservative. People 65 and older make up 14.5 percent of the Jackson County population, slightly higher than the state's 65-plus population, and Michigan's economic struggles are represented here. "
"Jackson is a really good microcosm of the sort of places where we need to build grassroots efforts and volunteer leadership," she said. She said polls conducted during and after the community presence period will guide the design of future programs and activities.
"Already, a couple of surveys appeared to show that AARP recognition had grown positively," said Andy Farmer, AARP Michigan associate state director for health and supportive services. "We have formed some meaningful engagement in the area."