By Enrique Rangel
When retired Austin Municipal Judge John R. Vasquez hung up his robe two years ago, he didn’t see himself living a life of leisure.
“I didn’t want to be in my house all the time,” Vasquez, 62, said recently. “I wanted to give back to my community.”
Two months after leaving the courthouse and moving to San Antonio, where he was born and raised, he found his calling as an AARP volunteer.
“I’ve gotten involved more and more because I like what they’re doing, not only for the older population but for all populations,” Vasquez said. “This is also an opportunity to reach out to the growing Hispanic population, especially to older Latinos who don’t know much about AARP and the many good things they do.”
Vasquez, a member of the AARP Texas Executive Council, has reached out to the Latino community and the senior population in numerous ways.
This summer he represented AARP at a variety of events. His roles ranged from promoting a healthy-cooking class as part of Living La Vida Buena (the good life) on TV to giving a PowerPoint presentation on the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities program at the LULAC national convention, held in the Alamo City in July.
Programs in Spanish
“We have a large number of volunteers. Hundreds, if not more, play a critical role because they do everything,” said Bob Jackson, AARP Texas state director.
“AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, for example, is one of our largest volunteer programs,” Jackson explained. “We have the Fraud Watch Network and also the Driver Safety program in Spanish. I am very happy with the outreach to the Latino community that we have.”
Enedelia Obregon, 60, of Austin, is part of that outreach effort.
“The health issues with my mom are what led me to volunteer,” Obregon said. “I didn’t realize that depression was a problem until I dealt with my mother’s.
“Caregiving is such a big issue among Hispanics,” said Obregon, a retired newspaper reporter whose volunteer work also focuses on financial-fraud prevention, cultural events and helping older Spanish speakers.
Obregon “is passionate about the issues and she knows how important health care is, not just for older Hispanics and the elderly population,” said Jessica Lemann, associate state director for outreach and advocacy at AARP Texas. “She inspires a lot of volunteers.
For Vasquez and Obregon, this is a critical time for volunteering. With 28 million residents—twice as many as in 1980—Texas is the second-largest state in population, after California.
And no community reflects the rapidly changing demographics in Texas more than San Antonio, the seventh-largest city in the United States.
While the Latino population in Texas is 39 percent, in San Antonio it is 63 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2040 the city is projected to nearly double its population, which is currently about 1.5 million.
And since the fastest-growing populations in Texas, older people and Hispanics, are the most likely to be obese, diabetic and swindled, healthy-lifestyle promotion and fraud prevention are among the most common activities for AARP Latino volunteers.
For their part, Vasquez and Obregon said their volunteer work has also enriched their lives and broadened their horizons.
“When I was a girl growing up in a colonia, I felt powerless and voiceless,” Obregon said, referring to the substandard neighborhood she grew up in, in La Feria, Texas. “I’m not that way anymore.”
Enrique Rangel is a freelance writer living in San Antonio.