Portrait illustration by Michael Hoeweler; John Byrum/Halifax Media Group
Susan Schneider was just 11 years old when President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps. Now, at 65, she's achieving her childhood dream of becoming a volunteer. Susan is teaching English in Tanzania — a task she spent more than a year preparing for by learning Swahili and teaching English to refugees in Spartanburg, S.C.
Susan is just one of the Peace Corps' nearly 500 volunteers over the age of 50 serving in countries around the world. The oldest, Alice Carter, 87, serves in Morocco, working in a youth center. And the good news is that the Peace Corps is actively seeking more volunteers over 50. It values older volunteers for their wealth of life and professional experiences and their ability to connect with those in the communities where they serve, as well as their fellow volunteers.
AARP and the Peace Corps share a long history together. Our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, was a strong believer in service and gave us a motto that we still follow today: "To serve, not to be served." She built AARP on that philosophy and dedicated her life to helping people find a way to serve. She saw the Peace Corps as an opportunity for AARP members to contribute to making the world a better place through purposeful volunteerism.
While joining the Peace Corps may not be for everyone, it offers an outlet for people like Susan and Alice who are seeking ways to find fulfillment by doing something they really care about, not to mention having a new adventure.
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AARP offers numerous ways to volunteer.
For example, every year since 2001, around Sept. 11, AARP has gone into communities to serve the most vulnerable among us. Last month, AARP Foundation spearheaded a Celebration of Service on the National Mall in Washington on Sept. 11 and 12 to honor those who gave their lives on that fateful day in 2001. More than 5,000 volunteers, many of them AARP staff, prepared meals for struggling seniors, veterans and retired first responders in the national capital area.
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Each year, from early February through mid-April, nearly 35,000 AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia serve in more than 5,000 Tax-Aide sites, helping 2.7 million people complete and file their federal and state tax returns — making it the largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation program in the country. In 2015, taxpayers who used AARP Foundation Tax-Aide received $1.4 billion in income tax refunds.
AARP's Foundation Experience Corps is made up of nearly 2,500 trained volunteers, 50 and over, in 25 cities who tutor children in kindergarten through third grade in reading and literacy skills. Students who worked with Experience Corps tutors achieved up to 60 percent more improvement in critical literacy skills than their non-tutored peers.
As I think about the work these volunteers are doing, I recall the words of Dr. Andrus, who said volunteers "are America in action." I couldn't agree more. Volunteers are making life better for people in their neighborhoods, communities and throughout the world. We salute you.
Looking for volunteer opportunities in your community? Go to CreatetheGood.org.
Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP.