Dancing to a New Beat
Chandra Marshall-Henson, 58, found a new calling on the dance floor at an AARP event
En español | FOR ABOUT 30 YEARS, I worked for the city of Dallas. I retired in 2010, at age 50 and was thinking, Now what am I going to do with my life? Not long afterward, I went to an AARP member convention in Los Angeles, and I was just blown away. There was every kind of business on the trade show floor — travel, cooking, arts, exercise — and all these enrichment classes. It just opened my eyes to what was possible for me. I walked in and I was, like, “Oh, my God, there is life after 50.”
The following year, I went to the AARP convention in New Orleans, and there was a Zumba demonstration. And this lady, she was about 80, she was up there teaching the class, and I thought, This is what I need to do. I’d always loved to dance, but I hadn’t considered sharing that love with other people before. After the demonstration, I went to the Zumba booth and talked to the instructor. She explained the process for becoming licensed to teach Zumba. I decided to go for it.
Within two months, I had gone through training and gotten my Zumba license. I’ve worked with DJs at weddings and graduations. I’ve taught classes at a dance studio. I’ve worked with kids at summer camps. One challenge is how to pick the right music for every event. I pray, Give me the right music, Lord. So that all who attend have the best time of their lives. It gives me so much joy to hear someone who doesn’t usually dance tell me, “I can’t believe I just did that!”
AARP changed my life. Now I’m involved in AARP’s community-leadership academy. I’m talking to volunteer team members all over the country about how to work together. People say to me, “You inspire me.” Which is exactly what I told that 80-year-old Zumba instructor in New Orleans. I just feel like this is my place and this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
— Chandra Marshall-Henson, 58, has been a member since 1999
AARP Helped a Retired Librarian Find Her Purpose
'I needed to feel fulfilled'
CHICAGOAN GWEN GINOCCHIO left her job as a public school librarian in 2012 to move to California. It wasn’t an easy decision; she was only 62 and loved her work. But her husband had been dreaming for years of leaving the snow behind. In their new home in Costa Mesa, they joined the YMCA and a church. Gwen signed up for art classes and met new people, but she missed a sense of purpose. “I didn’t need a job, but I needed to feel fulfilled,” she says.
In 2014, Ginocchio read about AARP’s volunteering program, Create the Good. Its website, createthegood.org, features more than 7,000 opportunities, searchable by zip code, and Ginocchio found one within 10 miles of her home. She signed up with KidWorks, a Santa Ana nonprofit through which she helps first and third graders with their homework during the school year; she tutors in the summer.
Ginocchio says she can’t express how satisfying the experience is: “Those little ones are so positive. I love being around them.” Last year she was voted KidWorks’ Volunteer of the Year. “I love helping the kids,” she adds, “but I get more out of it than they do.”
— Gwen Ginocchio has been a member since 1995
En español | ONE MONDAY IN AUGUST a couple of years ago, I started to feel a burning sensation below my sternum. I’d been having some chest pains and was actually scheduled for a stress test the following day, but the burning was below where my heart is, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I thought it must have been indigestion.
I took an antacid, but the pain kept getting worse. After about half an hour, I remembered an article I’d read in AARP The Magazine. It was called “How to Survive Your First Heart Attack,” and it stressed that the way you respond to symptoms in the first few minutes can make the difference between life and death.
The article said not to ignore the rarer symptoms of heart trouble, like pain above the belly button. It also said not to drive yourself to the hospital. If you think you might be having a heart attack, you’re supposed to call for an ambulance and let the paramedics drive you, so they can start treatment right away and can call ahead to the emergency room and tell staff what to expect.
I tend to be an introvert, so I don’t particularly like to be the center of attention, and I didn’t love the idea of an ambulance and a stretcher showing up at my house. But because of the article, I got over that. My wife was sitting in the recliner reading, and I told her, “Honey, I’m having chest pains. I’m calling 911.” The paramedics came, and when they wheeled me out of the house, all the neighbors were out to see what was going on. I just smiled and waved. They thought that was funny.
By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital, there was a receiving bay prepped and standing by for me. The staff immediately went into action to confirm the diagnosis and run — and I mean run — me to the cath lab for a stent. The next day they did an echocardiogram and found no perceptible damage to the heart muscle.
One of the doctors told me it was a good thing I’d called 911 right away. “You were on your way to a major heart attack,” he said. “You’re just really fortunate that you did what you did.” To me, though, what’s truly fortunate is that I read and remembered that article.
– David Reid, 70, has been a member since 1998
Learning How to Drive – Again
AARP's Driver Safety course helped Patricia Mahoney realize she'd been driving wrong
TO BE PERFECTLY BLUNT, I’ve never been a very good driver. I always drove real close to people, and I didn’t use my seat belt half the time. One time I skidded on the ice and hit a school bus. Then the bus driver told me to back up, which I did, but someone was driving around our accident, so I hit him, too. Even my 89-year-old neighbor, whom I take food shopping every week, would get nervous when I drove. She’d say, “Whoa, Patty! You drive too fast.”
My sister recently bought a car she lets me use, a 2015 Chrysler. I suspected it was kind of a lemon because it really picked up speed. We took it back to the dealership to check it out, but the guy there told me, “It’s not the car. It’s you.”
When I noticed an AARP Driver Safety course being offered for free at the local senior center last year, I took it mainly to hear what the new laws were. Honestly, I had no idea the class would change my whole way of driving. Everything our volunteer instructor, Doug, told us was fascinating to me. I was, like, “Are you kidding me? I’ve been driving wrong my whole life!”
He told us you should sit 10 inches away from your steering wheel. I’d been so far back in my car that my foot didn’t even touch the gas pedal all the way. It would slip off. He taught us a trick for keeping a safe distance from the car in front of us. He showed us how to fix the side mirrors for maximum visibility. He even demonstrated how to angle the headrests to prevent whiplash if there’s an accident.
I drive altogether differently now. Even my neighbor notices. When we go shopping, she says, “My God, Patty, you’re so cautious. It’s wonderful.”
I depend on being able to drive, and others depend on me. With help from AARP, I’m confident I’ll be able to get around safely for a long, long time.
– Patricia Mahoney, 64, has been a member since 2017