Mari is the AARP Florida 2013 Andrus Award Winner. She has dedicated the past 13 years to serving the underprivileged elderly in the greater Jacksonville area. In 2000 she helped found Senior Life Foundation which has become a lifeline for older Jacksonville residents. Senior Life Foundation helps forestall evictions, pay utility bills, and purchase eye exams.
The AARP Florida Andrus Award, named for AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, is the Association’s highest award for community service in Florida. It is given annually to a volunteer who, through volunteer service, is significantly enhancing the lives of individuals age 50 or older.
“Mari’s spirit and willingness to help others is exactly what the Andrus Award is about,” says Doug Heinlen, AARP Florida State President. “Her dedication to the wellbeing of the elderly in her community is an inspiration to us all. Like AARP Florida, she too is working to improve the lives of Floridians 50+.”
Mari’s journey with Senior Life Foundation started when she was appointed to the Mayor’s council of elder affairs in 2000. One day she was at a senior center downtown when she saw a woman in a wheelchair, who appeared to be in a coma. No one was helping the woman or even paying any attention to her.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mari said. “My first thought was ‘We need to help her!’”
Mari later found out the woman was in a diabetic coma, and never had enough insulin to keep her blood sugar normal. She was disheartened to learn that there were no programs in Jacksonville to help the woman, or others in similar situation. There were tragic needs in her community that no one was addressing. With the help of a few friends, Mari founded Senior Life Foundation to do just that.
Thirteen years later, Senior Life Foundation has several initiatives to respond to some of the severe issues facing seniors in Jacksonville. The Saving Our Senior’s Energy (SOS) program, through a partnership with Lowe’s and the Independent Living Program, replaces outdated appliances and windows with energy- and cost-efficient products to cut utility bills. This also allows SLF to help more people with their utility bills. Clear Sight for Seniors – partnered with VistaCon, The Vision is Priceless Council, and Walmart – works with people who’ve never had their eyes checked and pays for their eye exam and glasses.
These are just two of many initiatives that Mari has helped launch, and she has more in the works now. She’s very proud to say that Senior Life Foundation is able to give 98% of its money, collected through donations and partnerships, back to the people she’s serving.
Mari is so passionate about her work with Senior Life Foundation that when asked about winning the Andrus Award, she shifted the focus from herself.
“I’m absolutely excited!” She said. “It’s a tremendous honor for me, but more importantly it’s an honor for the Senior Life Foundation. It’s so important for us to get recognition so we can continue to get support.”