By Miriam Davidson
Bonnie Jackson, an AARP community educator, remembered the time she gave her “best ever” presentation at the Coolidge Public Library. Turnout was low, but she was not discouraged.
“There were six people, all female,” recalled Jackson, 68, a retired junior high school teacher from Peoria. She gave a talk on the AARP Foundation Finances 50+ program, about ways to manage personal finances.
“We had a wonderful discussion,” she said. “Halfway through the two-hour session, I asked if they wanted to take a break. They said, ‘No, let’s keep going.’ I felt like I was really giving them valuable information.”
Whether speaking before a small group or in a room packed with people, Jackson enjoys being a volunteer community educator for AARP. She estimates she’s given about a dozen presentations on subjects including Medicare, Social Security and the threat of fraud since joining the program three years ago.
“I knew I wanted to volunteer but wasn’t sure what to do,” she said. After reading about the Community Educators Program in an AARP newsletter, she realized, “I wanted to know more about Social Security and Medicare, and with my experience in education, it’s right up my alley.”
Jackson is one of about 30 community educators statewide who conduct some 70 to 80 presentations a year, said volunteer coordinator Jerry Watterworth, 59, a retired banker in Scottsdale. Most are in Maricopa County, with others in Prescott, Tucson and Yuma.
Retired aerospace worker Jon Erwin, 68, has seen the impact of scams during the AARP Fraud Watch Network presentations he conducts in the Tucson area. “One gentleman stood up and told how he had lost $10,000 to a grandparent scam,” Erwin said. A youthful-sounding criminal had called the man, pretending to be a grandchild in trouble who needed money right away.
Libraries, churches, community centers, homeowner associations, businesses and other groups host the free educational programs.
Focus on benefits, scams
Presentations are currently being offered on four subjects:
Social Security: Covers when and how to start retirement benefits; what other benefits, such as disability and survivors, are available; how to qualify for them; and other common questions.
Medicare: Demystifies Parts A, B, C and D; explains the difference between traditional and Medicare Advantage plans; and addresses enrollment periods and savings plans.
Fraud Watch: Reviews the latest information on cons and scams; describes tactics thieves use over the phone, on the internet or in person; and offers prevention strategies.
Finances 50+: Shows how to make a budget and stick to it; set up a savings plan; differentiate needs from wants; and establish and monitor credit.
Presenters may not be able to answer participants’ every question, Watterworth said, but they can provide information on where to find the answers.
“The handouts we give them have all the resources to go to, phone numbers and web pages, so people walk away with the tools they need to take the next steps,” he said.
AARP is always looking for people interested in becoming community educators, said David Parra, director of community outreach for AARP Arizona. Spanish speakers are also needed.
While some volunteers come well versed in their subjects, Parra said, most do not, and prior knowledge is not required.
Prospective educators usually undergo individual or group training, as well as mentoring, and attend others’ presentations before leading their own. Training is offered year-round.
To arrange a presentation or to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-389-5649 toll-free.
Miriam Davidson is a writer living in Tucson.