By Michelle Cerulli McAdams
Tina Caston says she aspires to be a “conduit for information” and an “ambassador for making sure people are taken care of.”
The 62-year-old retired Navy lieutenant commander, who lives on a naval base in Jacksonville, works as an AARP volunteer to connect veterans to the local services they need.
She also spreads the word about upcoming AARP and AARP-sponsored events, from caregiver workshops to the city’s annual jazz festival. She can often be found wearing something emblazoned with the AARP logo.
Caston is one of more than 3,000 AARP volunteers in Florida. Many serve with the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, which helps people prepare and file their federal income taxes for free. There are nearly 300 locations in the state. To find one near you, go to aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 toll-free.
Other volunteers provide driver safety education through the AARP Smart Driver course or help older workers refresh their job skills through the Senior Community Service Employment Program.
Advocacy volunteers often staff tables at local events, give presentations in the community, visit and speak with elected officials, write letters to the editor and perform other activities related to AARP’s priorities.
Caston began volunteering with AARP more than a decade ago while living in Phoenix. She taught people over 50 how to apply for jobs online. Now, serving vets and their families is her passion. “I have great vet neighbors. There are a lot of vets who are really overwhelmed and weren’t getting services in Florida.
“I grew up in public housing on the South Side of Chicago,” Caston said. “I could always see that people could do better and have a better quality of life if they had information.”
Making a difference
AARP volunteer Marie Hernandez, 73, of Orlando, gives presentations on caregiving. She uses the AARP booklet Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families (aarp.org/preparetocare) with her talks. The guide includes advice for having important conversations with older loved ones and determining their needs, as well as other helpful information.
“I really enjoy it and feel like I’m making a difference,” said Hernandez, a retired school counselor who also assists with AARP’s multicultural outreach efforts. She says that providing resources on the things that improve people’s everyday lives, such as caregiving, financial security and avoiding scams, is at the heart of what AARP does.
Doral resident Erika Ruiz, 53, began volunteering for AARP in 2008. She owned and ran an adult day care center in Miami with her cousin for 15 years and now works as a memory care activities coordinator for an assisted living facility. She uses her experience and passion for teaching and health to help improve area residents’ well-being “one life at a time with one smile at a time,” she said.
Ruiz gives talks about caregiving across her community. She also developed and teaches a body-brain fitness program, which includes singing, dancing and other mind and body exercises that people can do standing or seated. The program incorporates laughter yoga—a combination of deep yoga breathing and laughter exercises—a practice in which Ruiz is trained.
“It feels so good helping people to feel better,” she said.
Hernandez, who is also part of AARP’s Community Leadership Academy, which seeks to develop strong community leaders, couldn’t agree more.
She said her favorite part of volunteering is “the feeling of satisfaction you get [from] helping your community be better for everybody and helping other people live a better life.”
To learn more about volunteering for AARP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-595-7678 toll-free.
Michelle Cerulli McAdams is a writer living in Gainesville.