By Jill Gambon
During her 35 years working for the Social Security Administration, Louise Myers witnessed the impact the program has had on people’s lives. As a retiree, Myers wants to make sure Social Security remains intact. That’s one reason she’s a volunteer advocate with AARP Massachusetts.
“I am a firm believer in keeping Social Security protected,” said Myers, of North Chelmsford. “I saw that my voice could be heard through AARP advocacy work.”
Myers is one of about a dozen volunteer advocates who are working with AARP Massachusetts to keep in regular contact with their elected representatives in Congress. The goal is to have voters in each U.S. House district build relationships with members and their staffs, particularly on issues such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and caregiver legislation.
Myers, an AARP Massachusetts volunteer for more than 15 years, said she has met with her congresswoman, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell), several times. “It’s important to let them know we are paying attention,” she said. “The reaction from members of Congress has been very positive.”
Jessica Costantino, advocacy director for AARP Massachusetts, said members of Congress pay attention: “They are always willing to listen and are always receptive to our information. I do think it’s helpful to hear from real people—people who can put some context around the issues.”
Volunteer advocates build relationships through face-to-face meetings, phone calls, social media outreach and participation in events in the district that the representatives or their staff members attend, Costantino said.
Last June, Gerald Flaherty, a volunteer advocate and member of the AARP Massachusetts Executive Council, traveled to Washington to meet with members of the congressional delegation, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D) and Ed Markey (D). It was an opportunity to get an update from officials and to fill them in on the concerns of constituents.
“They see AARP volunteers as a voice from their districts,” Flaherty said. “The representatives agreed that AARP is one of the strongest voices in the battle against dismantling the social safety net.”
‘From the ground up’
Flaherty, 74, of Marion, said the volunteer advocates are involved in their local communities—he’s active in New Bedford’s age-friendly initiative—and bring a grassroots sensibility and perspective to those in Washington. “It’s not coming down from the top; it’s building from the ground up,” he said.
Flaherty, who was a research analyst and legislative aide on Beacon Hill, said the current political climate in Washington has motivated him to stay involved.
“The atmosphere has never been as poisoned as it is today. From a personal point of view, it’s important to do something in such an atmosphere that matters,” he said.
Flaherty said an important part of advocacy is keeping others informed. “I’ll post updates on Facebook on key things like health care.”
Costantino hopes to build up the network of volunteer advocates to 10 or 12 people in each of the state’s nine congressional districts.
To be a good volunteer, “you don’t need to be a super policy wonk,” Costantino said. “You don’t have to be an expert or a former congressional aide. You have to be able to build relationships and want to make a difference.”
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer advocate, contact AARP Massachusetts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-448-3621 toll-free.
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass.