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Working to Improve the Community

Matching local needs with AARP resources

As an AARP Wisconsin lead volunteer in Wausau, Laura Frost works with local agencies to address the needs of older people, especially in the areas of hunger and health.

"It's good for [residents] to see people from AARP coming in, sitting on boards, doing work in the community," said Frost, 65. "People get to see the good things that AARP is doing."

See also: Volunteers educate communities on Medicare fraud.

Frost works with Faith in Action of Marathon County, a program that connects elderly and disabled adults with volunteer caregivers. She also represents AARP on the Marathon County Hunger Coalition.

AARP has long had a presence in local communities through the work of its volunteers in programs such as AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, AARP Driver Safety and fraud fighters. Now it is supporting the work of existing organizations by providing additional resources such as funding, promotional support and volunteers, said Mariann Muzzi, community outreach director for AARP Wisconsin.

Fighting hunger

"Agencies currently exist to address the needs of the community," Muzzi said. "We have the resources to provide a number of services needed by the community. We said, 'Is there a way to use our education and communication tools to help them?' "

The effort has begun in and around Wausau, where 8.2 percent of Marathon County residents age 65 and older live at or below the poverty level, according to the United Way of Marathon County.

The Hunger Coalition is one group working to address those issues.

A local initiative of United Way, its members represent 21 business, government, educational, faith-based and nonprofit organizations, including AARP. The result is a broad coalition of partners, with members who bring their own areas of expertise, said JoAnn Janikowski, United Way community impact director and lead on the Marathon County Hunger Coalition.

The coalition conducts food collection drives for Marathon County food pantries. The coalition has bought a commercial-size refrigerator and freezer for one food bank and a truck to pick up and deliver donations. It also seeks to educate the public on the need for donating nutritious food to pantries throughout the year, to support member pantries.

To see how you can help fight hunger in Marathon County, visit the AARP Drive to End Hunger website.

Health and wellness

AARP Wisconsin is also collaborating with Faith in Action to put on an annual Wellness and Volunteer Fair for the community. This year's event, held May 15, featured vendors offering hearing, vision and blood pressure tests, and information on fitness classes, food pantry assistance and senior housing. AARP also sponsored a Car Fit event at the fair for older drivers.

"Having AARP help us with this [wellness] fair gives us access to information and resources that I didn't even know existed," said Colleen Motley, Faith in Action program director.

AARP Wisconsin plans to build on the work it's begun in Marathon County. AARP expects to host more than a dozen events in Wausau this year, including volunteer recruitment events, fraud prevention presentations, tele-town halls and voter education sessions.

AARP is distributing a resource guide called "Help for Hard Times (pdf)," which was compiled by the United Way of Marathon County 2-1-1 program. The guide offers resources and contacts for people in Marathon County who are unemployed or struggling financially. AARP Wisconsin mailed a copy to all its member households in the county.

AARP Wisconsin plans to build on the work it's begun in Marathon County and expand into other communities. It is working with the Milwaukee County Department on Aging to hold a series of listening sessions to gather comments on a plan for senior services in the future. AARP Wisconsin will use this information to develop its plans for meeting community needs, Muzzi said.

"The essence of AARP is all about connecting people in the community and helping them to realize their power," said Sam Wilson, AARP Wisconsin state director.

Also of interest: AARP Foundation hunger hero.

Amy Geier Edgar is a freelance writer living in Racine, Wis.