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Volunteers Make Life Better

Bring your talents to AARP's volunteer corps

Susan Ryckman, one of AARP New York’s 5,000 volunteers, at a health care forum at Baruch College.

Deidre Schoo

Susan Ryckman, right with glasses, prepares for a health care forum at Baruch College. She’s one of AARP New York’s 5,000 volunteers who donate their time and talent on behalf of its 2.4 million members.

Susan Ryckman was accustomed to high-powered negotiations as a vice president in retail management before she lost her job two years ago in the recession.

See also: Vacationing as a volunteer. 

So when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, proposed budget cuts this year that threatened to close 105 senior centers in New York City, Ryckman put those skills to work on behalf of AARP. Ultimately, the funding was not cut.

As a member of the Legislative Patrol, Ryckman visits officials in City Hall and the state legislature in Albany to let them know AARP's positions on issues. "I've always believed that one person can make a difference."

Ryckman, 63, of Manhattan, loves being part of the legislative outreach. AARP "fights for us because we're worth it," she said.

Ryckman is just one example of the 5,000 AARP New York members who volunteer their time to help the organization and the 2.4 million other members statewide.

For people whose interests fall outside the legislative arena, there are many other ways to serve. AARP volunteers work in their own communities, helping others with day-to-day concerns.

Meet two of them:

Diane Feldman was hoping to trim 10 percent off her auto insurance premiums when she signed up for the AARP Driver Safety course in 2005. She enjoyed the class so much that she decided to become a Driver Safety Program instructor.

"I like the idea of helping people keep driving," said the 63-year-old retired office manager from Evans.

Sometimes physical limits hamper otherwise good drivers, she said, and the class offers tips to cope.

"They can cut out night driving; install pedal extenders so they can reach the pedals more easily; and exercise so they can look over their shoulder," she said.

Feldman estimates that she's taught about 1,800 students since she started in 2006. She teaches every other month at the Evans Senior Center and fills in as needed in other locations.

Besides teaching, Feldman worked as an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer in 2004.

Next winter, she plans to live in Ocala, Fla., where she hopes to teach the driver safety class. "It's just a great way to spend time and give back to the community something that might have a lasting impression."

Next: Meet AARP volunteer Eddie Agosto. >>

Eddie Agosto, 63, of the Bronx, had never given a speech, much less a motivational one, when he agreed in January to give a pep talk on behalf of AARP to people over 50 who had lost their jobs.

"I gave the speech in English in the morning and Spanish in the afternoon," he said.

Agosto was tapped to speak after he gave a talk about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to fellow volunteers in the Drive to End Hunger last fall. That's when AARP staff noticed his knack for public speaking.

Agosto retired in 2009 after 43 years with the U.S. Postal Service. A letter from AARP seeking volunteers arrived at the perfect time. "I had cabin fever, but I didn't want to work," he said.

Recently, Agosto spoke on behalf of AARP at a press conference on Medicare fraud. He also spoke at a senior citizens center about proposed cuts to the state Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program.

Volunteering with AARP is "therapeutic and social," he said. "It's also good to know you helped someone."

Winnie Yu is a writer living in Voorheesville, N.Y.

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