Kay Argroves, at her home in Madison, said going to the Capitol is better than reality TV. Photo by Maura Friedman.

By Drew Jubera

Three years ago, Kay Argroves, a nurse anesthetist, read a story about advocacy volunteers for AARP Georgia. It intrigued her. Argroves had always been interested in the political process, and this looked like a way to become more involved.

“I vote every chance I get,” said the Madison resident. “But voting can only go so far.”

So Argroves contacted the AARP state office, attended training for volunteers and found herself under the Gold Dome, navigating a maze of hallways, offices and personalities.

“It’s so exciting to me, going to the Capitol,” said Argroves, 64. “Some people like reality TV. For me, this is the ultimate reality TV. You’re there, you’re seeing history in the making, and it really impacts everybody’s lives.”

Volunteers have been vital to AARP Georgia’s lobbying efforts for years. Their roles have evolved from a team that once installed itself inside the State Capitol during the 40-day session to working on an as-needed but coordinated basis, inside and outside the building.

Volunteer duties now range from discussing bills face to face with legislators to sending emails and phoning offices. Volunteers receive weekly newsletters to follow issues through the legislative pipeline and then mobilize at the most effective times.

“If someone has an interest in the legislative process, there’s always something we can find for them to do,” said Melissa Sinden, advocacy manager for AARP Georgia.

“We’ve been trying to break down barriers to advocacy, make it less scary. Not everybody wants to go to the Capitol. There’s a lot more that can be done behind the scenes.”

Push for CARE Act
Yet the volunteers’ biggest advantage remains unchanged—personal stories that resonate with lawmakers.

That’s especially true this session, starting Jan. 8. AARP Georgia is seeking personal accounts from members to help bolster its support of the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable) Act.

This bill would require hospitals to register a family caregiver’s contact information when a person in their care is admitted, notify the caregiver of a patient’s discharge and explain or give instructions on medical tasks to be performed at home.

“That’s what is most effective in terms of having conversations with elected officials,” Sinden said. “When they hear someone’s story and how it affects them, it has impact. They care about what their constituents care about, and it’s important they hear from people in their district.”

Volunteers come from many backgrounds: teachers, nurses, business owners. Training is provided, and AARP staff guide volunteers throughout the legislative session.

Argroves said she learns something new every session. She already knows that the office numbers inside the Capitol often aren’t in sequential order. She knows there’s a floor where corporate lobbyists congregate on one side and nonprofit and community group lobbyists mingle on the other.

Summing up her experience, she said with a laugh: “If I can do it, anybody can.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer during the session—or wants to relate a personal story about caregiving or another issue—can contact the state office at gaaarp@aarp.org or 866-295-7281 toll-free.

Drew Jubera is a writer living in Atlanta.