Veteran Gets a Home and a Bright Future
'It Feels Like Heaven on Earth'
En español | I WAS A CORPORAL in the Army, specializing in field supplies. My home base was in Oklahoma, but I was stationed at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, where I worked with soldiers qualifying to use their assigned weapons.
Since I left the service, though, my life has been a roller-coaster ride. I’ve had many difficult situations. Been kicked out of apartments. I spent quite a few years up and down the highway, sleeping in my car, living at truck stops. Even now, I have flashbacks and don’t like talking about it.
But everything changed for me a little over a year ago. AARP had created an initiative called the Future of Housing, to study the kinds of homes our country will need as the population ages. Along with AARP Foundation, a nonprofit called Home Matters and the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, AARP challenged architects nationwide to create new designs to allow older adults to stay in their homes throughout their lives. AARP and its partners built a model home in Memphis to showcase these ideas and then held a search for a veteran to give the home to. Out of all the deserving people who applied to be considered, I got selected. AARP gave me back my future.
The house was built so I can live on my own, no matter what happens to me. If I’m ever in a wheelchair, the driveway lets me roll right up to the door. The doorways are really wide. Support bars are everywhere. No steps or curbs to worry about. Even the bed is built in a way that’s easy to get in and out of.
My mom comes to stay with me often. My youngest daughter is living with me now. She’s 17, and she’ll be graduating from high school soon. I hadn’t been able to have her with me before now. We’re getting to know each other.
My favorite part of the house is the kitchen. It’s big and roomy enough for my brothers and sisters and my mom and my kids to gather in one spot. We have a blast. I’m a breakfast guy, and I’ll make eggs and biscuits and sausage and oatmeal for everybody. We’ll put up a big pot of coffee and talk about the good times. I mean, I just can’t explain the joy. It’s overwhelming. Being seen as a human being, knowing somebody believed in me like this — it feels like heaven on earth.
I’m proud of my service, but nothing makes me prouder than this.
— Walter Moody, 56, has been a member since 2018
A Toast to a Better Retirement
Saleem Noorani worked with AARP to win security for Oregon workers
AS A SMALL-BUSINESS owner, Saleem Noorani was concerned about his employees’ future. Were they saving for retirement? With only a dozen workers in his three Oregon liquor stores, Noorani knew it would be prohibitively expensive to contract with a big investment firm to set up a 401(k) plan.
About two years ago, he discovered that his concerns mirrored those of AARP’s state office in Oregon, which had been advocating for a private-sector retirement savings program for small-business workers. AARP had just helped persuade the state to set up an investment plan. Noorani, 60, already a volunteer on the AARP Oregon Executive Council, joined the effort to implement the plan. “Oregon’s population is a touch over 4 million, and half a million are AARP members,” he says. “People in government listen when we call, because they know that our issues are of great value to their constituents.”
He plunged into his volunteer gig, offering his chain as a guinea pig for the savings program and providing advice to those creating the plan.
His efforts paid off. Last year, Oregon became the first state in the nation to offer financial security to small-business workers through a statewide savings plan. Seven other states have since enacted similar programs.
Noorani says he’s thankful to have played a role in launching OregonSaves: “I love that I’ve helped AARP look after a segment of the population that often gets overlooked.”
— Saleem Noorani has been an AARP member since 2008
The Push to Start Her Own Business
An AARP Workshop was the impetus for Eva Bonilla's tour-guide company
IT'S LATE MORNING, and Eva Bonilla is leading a group of tourists at the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, watching a herd of longhorn cattle let loose from their pens for the drive through Cowtown. Four years ago, Bonilla was feeling eager to wrangle her next adventure. The fourth-generation Fort Worthian had served community groups, cultural organizations and educational associations. She’d managed the office and personnel records at a pharmaceutical company. But Bonilla, married and the mother of three daughters, had never run her own business. Was this the time? An AARP workshop is where she turned for answers.
Based on the book Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities, the workshop helped participants ages 50 to 90-plus to reflect on where they were in life and to create step-by-step plans for where they wanted to go.
Bonilla discovered that her work experiences were just right to help her run a tour company one day. Within a year she earned a certification as a hospitality professional. At 66, Bonilla launched Vamos DFW Tours, to serve tourists in both Spanish and English.
“I love showing off my town,” she says. And business is good: “I could work every day if I wanted to, including Saturdays and Sundays, but I set my own schedule.”
The company has benefits beyond the financial, Bonilla adds. “Running a business keeps me connected, energetic and forward-thinking. If it weren’t for that workshop, I don’t think I would have started Vamos. AARP gave me the much-needed push.”
— Eva Bonilla, 69, has been a member since 1999