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Our Commitment to Service

Published in the September 2011 issue of The Fifty Plus Advocate.

Adversity has a way of bringing people together, and that’s what happened in the wake of the devastating attack on September 11, 2001. Ten years ago this month, we saw people reassessing their lives. We saw people recommitting their lives spiritually. We saw people going out of their way to help others. And, out of this horrible tragedy, came a recommitment to service.

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Today – perhaps more than ever – we as a nation need to turn to volunteers to help meet the ever-growing needs of our society. Living as we do in this era of economic turmoil, shrinking public resources, cutbacks and downsizing, volunteers are an important resource we must tap to meet the increasing demands in our communities.

Volunteers age 50 and older are one of our nation’s best-kept secrets; one of the most underutilized human resources for addressing community concerns and needs in our nation. Research repeatedly finds that older persons have a healthy work ethic, a low turnover rate, and demonstrate performance stability in volunteer activities.

In fact, mounting scientific evidence indicates volunteering can even be a key to better health and happiness. A Journals of Gerontology study shows that older persons who volunteer report higher levels of well-being – regardless of race, gender or income level – while another Vanderbilt University report illustrates that volunteer work enhances six aspects of personal welfare: happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and relief from depression.

So, are Boomers volunteering? In Massachusetts, 25.5 percent have participated in volunteer work over the past few years, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Their desire to give back is strong, or even stronger, than that of any generation. But, they want to do it their own way, and have a clear preference for flexible, customizable experiences.

That’s right: As they have done throughout their entire lives, due in part to their sheer numbers, the Boomers are bringing change – this time to the face of volunteering.

At AARP, we have a legacy of civic engagement that goes back to our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. In 1958, she started AARP to help retired teachers gain access to health insurance, to provide discounts, to serve – and to provide service to older Americans via volunteer programs that help them maintain independence, dignity, and purpose.

Dr. Andrus recognized that, through volunteerism, AARP members could make their greatest contribution. So it makes perfect sense that she adopted as AARP’s motto, “To serve and not to be served,” saying, “Our respect and dignity are not given us. Status is not conferred upon us. It is won, and won first through our conviction of the need of others, then through our action for service to those others.”

AARP service has taken many forms over the years. Some of our most successful and wide-reaching volunteer activities and programs include: grassroots advocacy and voter education, Tax-Aide, and the Driver Safety Program. In Massachusetts, we also cosponsor the Money Management Program with Mass Home Care and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. And, we recruit AARP members to help elementary school children reach their full potential by serving as mentors and reading coaches in Boston Public Schools, through Generations Incorporated, as part of Experience Corps.

Our newer initiatives include Drive to End Hunger, an effort to end the growing problem of elder hunger, and Create The Good – a network that helps our members find self-directed volunteer opportunities.
Right now, thousands of AARP volunteers are hard at work, helping others in a variety of ways, across the Bay State – and the nation.

Clearly, today’s volunteers – like those in the past – want to make a difference. And, they want to put their skills to good purpose, matching their service with not only their abilities but their passions and lifestyles.

As we remember the tragic events of ten years ago, many of us are moved to serve anew. One good way is by participating in the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Here at AARP Massachusetts, we will be helping feed the hungry in Worcester County by volunteering with the Community Harvest Project. Dr. Andrus would expect nothing less.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities in Massachusetts, visit Create The Good.

Deborah Banda is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, which serves more than 800,000 members age 50 and over in the Bay State. This editorial appears in the September 2011 edition of the Fifty Plus Advocate, the statewide mature market newspaper.