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When Disaster Strikes, We Are There for Older Adults

Debra Whitman, AARP Foundation President Lisa Ryerson, Mirta Pierre, 90, St. Vincent de Paul nursing home, Leogane, Haiti

AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson, center, and AARP Executive Vice President for Policy Strategy and International Affairs Debra Whitman, left, talk with 90-year-old Mirta Pierre during a visit to the St. Vincent de Paul nursing home in Leogane, Haiti.

In the wake of disaster, the unique needs of older people are often hidden.

AARP Foundation plays a vital role in ensuring that the voices of older adults are heard and that their needs are met. Many groups are set up to meet the needs of children and younger adults, but they don’t often think about the needs of older people. For example, many older people can’t stand for a long time waiting for food, water or other supplies.

After Hurricanes Rita and Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, we developed a disaster relief fund. AARP members and others have come forward heroically to help, donating millions of dollars to assist older victims.

Since then, we have also helped out after Superstorm Sandy, the Oklahoma tornadoes, and internationally in Haiti and Japan. Seven days after I started my work at AARP Foundation, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. And we were able to raise a million dollars to support relief efforts there.

Related: Helping Haiti

In total, we have secured nearly $5 million in disaster relief funds through donations and matching contributions. The funds have gone to other nonprofit organizations to directly help older adults and to multiply these organizations’ efforts. They are on the ground and in communities, finding a warm place for folks to sleep, locating people in abandoned nursing homes and generally helping people who can’t help themselves.

Our relief work supports our core mission to win back opportunity for struggling older adults. There are so many Americans 50 and older who find themselves struggling. We primarily work in four interrelated areas — hunger, housing, income and isolation — developing sustainable solutions that we can scale nationwide to reach the most people who are in need.
Last year, AARP and FEMA announced an agreement that will help provide resources and services for older Americans when disasters strike. This means that thousands of AARP volunteers can be more easily mobilized in the aftermath of a disaster, not as first responders but as community members who are there to help their neighbors both in the short and the long term.

See Also: Help bring relief to struggling seniors; find volunteer opportunities near you
I’m proud to say that helping in these ways — both with donations and with ready and willing on-the-ground support — has become a tradition among AARP members. We see it as part of our mission to harness that energy and desire to help, and to direct the funds raised to agencies and organizations that know how to enable people to recover.
Nothing can stop the next natural disaster from happening. But by mobilizing our millions of AARP members and others, both to open their wallets and to reach out to their neighbors in more direct ways, we know that we can help the most vulnerable among us bounce back from the next calamity. And by encouraging that tradition of helping through the AARP Foundation Emergency Fund, we will be more ready than ever to lend a hand so that no one is invisible.

Lisa Marsh Ryerson is the president of AARP Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @PresRyerson.

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