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New AARP Chapters Fill a Niche

Groups with common ethnic, special interest backgrounds growing rapidly

niche aarp groups forming in many united states

Elgene Morales, standing, jokes with Senn Fontanilla, who helped organize a Filipino American AARP Chapter in Philadelphia. Several ethnic-oriented AARP chapters have been formed in the state. — Photo by Matt Roth

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."

Also of interest: Website connects people 50+ with jobs. >>

Cristina Rouvalis is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.

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