By Miriam Davidson
When Joe Scott volunteers to answer the phone a few hours each week at the AARP Information Center in Tucson, he gets a kick out of how thrilled some callers are just to talk to a real, live human being.
“They’ve been on the phone with agencies, sometimes for hours,” and expect to hear another automated voice when they call AARP for help, said Scott, 66.
“I’m of the age group where you grew up talking to people,” Scott said, “so I understand not being too happy with the machines.”
Scott was a community development administrator before retiring to Arizona from New Jersey in 2009. He enjoys personally responding to the concerns of callers or walk-ins, including newcomers.
Some need housing, insurance or a lawyer. Scott refers them to, and sometimes intervenes with, organizations that provide those services. Others may have questions about membership or want to learn more about products or services mentioned in AARP publications.
Scott is one of about 1,400 AARP members in Arizona participating in a broad range of volunteer activities. These include orienting newcomers, teaching driver safety, preparing tax returns, fighting fraud, organizing social and cultural events, conducting food drives and other community projects, and lobbying the legislature on issues important to Arizonans over 50.
Diversity of experience
Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds, and many are able to contribute professional expertise.
Sally Hart, for example, is an elder-law attorney and Medicare expert from Tucson who serves on the local Advisory Council as well as the AARP National Policy Council. Hart, 70, helps set AARP’s policy agenda and advocates for older Americans at both the state and national levels.
But those with no expertise are welcome, too.
Mark Bojazi, 58, a retired union carpenter from Philadelphia, didn’t know much about taxes when he volunteered to become a Tax-Aide preparer in 2011.
“I’d never even done my own taxes,” the Tucson resident said. “But I was looking to volunteer and it sounded interesting, so I asked if they would teach me.”
Bojazi took a self-paced online course, received in-person training from AARP volunteers and became an IRS-certified tax preparer.
“I enjoy it because people are really appreciative,” he said. “I learn more every year, and I’ve gotten a lot faster.”
This year, Tax-Aide volunteers like Bojazi helped an estimated 52,000 Arizonans file their returns.
AARP offers volunteer opportunities statewide with its community service projects and Tax-Aide and Smart Driver programs. Training for next year’s Tax-Aide preparers begins in the fall.
Volunteers are also invited to help organize Fraud Watch activities, such as public events with law enforcement and other agencies that are planned for later this year in Phoenix and Tucson.
In Phoenix and Tempe, AARP Experience Corps needs volunteers to help teach schoolchildren to read.
And at the legislative level, AARP advocates are focusing on efforts to strengthen support for family caregivers, make it easier for people to live independently and protect government pensions.
These priorities sound good to Joe Scott. “The issues they’ve outlined and want to address are definitely something to be involved in,” he said.
Miriam Davidson is a writer living in Tucson, Ariz.