Shirley Waugh got hooked on volunteering at AARP’s annual gathering in 2004 when it was held in her backyard. Now, like hundreds of others, the Las Vegas retiree is ready for another stint, this time at the Orlando@50+ National Event & Expo, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.
Volunteers are a vital component of AARP’s annual event, and veterans like Waugh help keep things running smoothly and provide countless acts of assistance. Waugh said she’ll check with a few other volunteers she’s become friends with at other conventions to see if they’re going to be in Florida as well.
Asked what’s driven her to volunteer four more times since that first stint, Waugh noted the beneficial aspects of being around so many positive people and then echoed the sentiments of many others: “Meeting and talking to people is something I just enjoy doing.”
AARP devised its successful formula for managing volunteers at the 2001 event in Dallas. Decked out in special volunteer T-shirts, they work at least one four-hour shift as greeters, ushers, ticket-takers and general ambassadors to the members.
AARP expects about 25,000 attendees at the Orange County Convention Center for the 2010 event. Highlights include a concert by B.B. King and Gladys Knight. A range of speakers, from famed humorist Dave Barry to Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” will also be featured.
Abby Walters, AARP Florida associate state director, is in charge of finding 1,200 volunteers who will provide “a friendly face to people.”
To sign up those friendly faces, AARP is recruiting online, in newspapers and newsletters, and by word of mouth. With more than 1 million members within driving distance of Orlando, Walters expects the majority of volunteers will be from the local area.
In September, an orientation will be held for local volunteers. Others will be sent detailed information, followed by on-site instructions from team leaders.
Interested? Be advised, you must be comfortable walking the floor for long periods. Some advice from veterans: Wear comfortable shoes.
Betty Lorenz works at AARP’s Dallas office, and volunteered at the 2001 gathering. She’s watched it evolve while volunteering at subsequent conventions: “They’ve got the system down far better.”
Through the years, Waugh said, she’s stuffed bags, monitored conference rooms and staffed the check-in lounge. But “no matter what other jobs I do during the day, I always volunteer at the concerts in the evenings.”
With AARP’s strong volunteer tradition, it’s not surprising that many of those helping at the national events see it as just an extension of their work at home.
Take retiree Walter Johnson Jr., 75, of Rialto, Calif., who serves on a county council on aging and is active with AARP and other organizations.
He first volunteered at an AARP event in 2006 in Anaheim, near his home. Johnson and his wife, Henrietta, 62, signed up again in 2007 for Boston and expect to help yet again in Orlando.
Janelle Quinn, a St. Petersburg businesswoman who volunteered last year in Las Vegas, plans to attend the Orlando orientation.
“I enjoy organizing and directing. In other words, I’m bossy,” Quinn said with a laugh.
With such a range of volunteers, you never know who might be helping you find a seat or providing directions.
For instance, when the AARP met in Orlando in 2000, Tess Canja was national president.
This time, Canja, who has a home in Florida, foresees a different role for herself.
“There’s a chance that I might be a volunteer,” she said. “In fact, probably a very good chance.”
George Edmonson is a freelance writer living in Tarpon Springs, Fla.