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Where We Stand: AARP Celebrates Its 50th

Retired educator Ethel Percy Andrus founded AARP fifty years ago.

Fifty years ago, retired educator Ethel Percy Andrus founded AARP because she believed everyone should have the chance to age with independence, dignity and purpose. She believed, as we do today, that the generations are linked by a commitment to values, community and service.

Dr. Andrus was an activist, innovator, leader and a strong advocate for social change. The movement she ignited has grown larger and stronger than she ever could have imagined. Today, at nearly 40 million members, we are the beneficiaries of her vision and the stewards of her legacy.

Our anniversary comes during what will be one of the most significant years in American political history. We face tough problems here and abroad, and we are electing new leaders across the country. If we take steps to address what ails us, our future and the future of our children and grandchildren will be bright. If not,  we jeopardize the chances for coming generations.

So we’re 50 ... finally old enough to join ourselves! With the theme “Generations Connecting for Change,” our anniversary will help unite all Americans in building a better future. We’re connecting to learn by donating more than $1 million to public schools across the country that demonstrate a commitment to fostering civic engagement among students and their communities.

We gave our first-ever AARP Ethel Percy Andrus Legacy Award in February to Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, where Dr. Andrus served as principal. The $100,000 awards have also been made to a high school in each of our other “Celebration Cities”—Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington.

AARP DC president Denise Rolark Barnes and I had the pleasure of awarding $100,000 to McKinley Tech in Washington. In a rousing pep rally atmosphere, the kids accepted the check and committed themselves, as only the young truly can, to making their city a better place.

We’re also granting a $10,000 Andrus Legacy Award for Innovation to one public high school in every state—as well as in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia—whose initiatives elevate student achievement and enrich school and community life.

We’ll hold town hall forums to hear what our members think about our Divided We Fail goals of economic and health security. And we’ll do live tapings of Washington Week, the PBS news analysis program hosted by Gwen Ifill, in eight cities.

We’re connecting to change in several communities to meet the needs of all generations for today and tomorrow. In all our celebration cities, we’re doing a rebuilding project to show how livable communities thrive when people work together.

And we are connecting to celebrate—just to have fun and enjoy the anniversary. In Atlanta we will sponsor a concert in June with the musical soul and inspiration of Yolanda Adams, Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick, among others. Our celebration culminates in September at Life@50+, AARP’s National Event and Expo, in Washington. It will be a glorious event, and I hope you’ll be there for a lifetime experience. [See for more details.]

Dr. Andrus said about the future, “It is ours, not only that it will happen to us, but it will at least in part be made by us.” In marking our 50th year, we are mindful that while the legacy is hers, the responsibility for the future belongs to all of us.