Chicago is where Andrus attended college, worked as a teacher and volunteered in the settlement houses for the poor. Those were the early experiences that nurtured her desire to help people and eventually led Andrus to found the American Association of Retired Persons — now AARP.
Today, AARP Illinois spearheads programs that echo Andrus' Chicago experience. Home foreclosures are now a big problem in Illinois and even in the Austin neighborhood where Andrus once lived. Foreclosures in the Chicago region rose to more than 45,000 properties in 2010. AARP Illinois is working with the state attorney general's office on legislation to provide relief for individuals facing foreclosure.
Another AARP program trains community leaders on Chicago's West and South sides. The outreach project works with older Hispanic and African American adults to help them organize their neighborhoods. The goal is to make communities more livable.
Older people in the Latino Pilsen neighborhood, for example, are working to have a bus stop added near the local medical center so they can get to their doctors' appointments. Another effort will look at ways to help people stay in their own homes longer so they don't have to move to a nursing home.
Coming full circle, interns from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago are working with AARP Illinois on community organizing projects in Latino and African American areas of Chicago.
"This really makes the project special," said Jerry Kellman, associate director of outreach for AARP Illinois. "We are reflecting our founder's vision."
Jane Adler is a freelance writer based in Wilmette, Ill.