Some chapters revolve around interests, not ethnic backgrounds. In western Pennsylvania, many chapters have rallied around gift giving through a community service project called Presents for Patients.
In 2010, volunteers knitted and distributed small lap afghans as well as gift packages containing toiletries or stuffed animals and other items to 2,355 nursing home residents at 20 sites in the region.
"You hold their hand. You tell them who you are," said Pat Domachowski, the AARP liaison for Allegheny County and coordinator for Greene County. "You present the gift, whether it is a lap robe or a stuffed animal. A lot of them don't have any family."
Domachowski, 69, remembers the time four years ago she handed a man in a nursing home a gift and said, "Oh, dear heart, how are you today?"
The man grabbed her hand and said, "I wanted to tell you that no one has called me 'dear heart' since my wife died 20 years ago."
She walked out of the nursing home with a warm glow inside, thinking to herself, "I am in the right line doing things for AARP."
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Cristina Rouvalis is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.