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Volunteers Find Many Ways to Help

Viola Santos helps low-income seniors with their finances, one of many AARP volunteer opportunities. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

By Jill Gambon

When Viola Santos was caring for her aging parents, she got help arranging home care through Greater Springfield Senior Services. Santos appreciated the support and the impact it had on her parents’ care. A few years later, when she had time to volunteer, she felt it was her turn to help older residents in her community.

Santos, 59, of Ludlow, had assisted her parents and her mother-in-law with organizing and paying their bills, so she decided to volunteer with the Massachusetts Money Management Program. Sponsored by AARP Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Mass Home Care—a network of nonprofit centers of information on aging services—the program helps low-income older people handle their finances.

“I’m glad to do it,” Santos said. “I felt it was something I could do to give back.”

Santos, who joined the program four years ago, said the money management assignments fit her schedule. Volunteers typically spend just a few hours monthly on each client’s finances.

In addition to writing checks on behalf of her clients, Santos also troubleshoots occasional problems. For instance, one man inadvertently signed up for Internet service, even though he didn’t own a computer. She intervened and got the service canceled.

“It’s not a big time commitment. For an hour or so of your time every month, you’re doing good for someone else,” she said.

In Massachusetts, about 1,800 of the state’s 800,000 AARP members volunteer in various capacities, including advocacy, driver safety education, tutoring, tax preparation and the money management program. Whether they’re motivated by a desire to give back to the community or they want to discover new ways to use their expertise and professional skills, volunteers find roles that match their interests, said Linda F. Fitzgerald, 69, of Springfield, president of AARP Massachusetts.

“There are so many ways that people can get involved. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and to continue to use the knowledge gained over the years,” Fitzgerald said.

Driver safety and Tax-Aide

Kathleen Campanirio, of Taunton, got involved with AARP Driver Safety after taking the course a few years ago. She realized she could draw on her background in sales to teach and help market the classes. She’s now an instructor and program advocate in Massachusetts and in Florida, where she lives part time.

“This suits my skills set,” said Campanirio, 71. “I find it stimulating and I meet the nicest people. If I can help others to stay safe and optimize the time that they are driving, then I feel good.”

Ed O’Connor helps people file their income taxes through AARP Foundation Tax-Aide and teaches driver safety classes. Volunteering keeps him active while fulfilling his desire to contribute to the community, he said.

A retired supervisor with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., O’Connor, 67, said his years of transportation safety and budgeting experience are a useful background for his AARP volunteer work.

The Carver resident takes deep satisfaction in showing a Tax-Aide client how to save money or helping others maintain their independence through safe driving.

“It’s rewarding when you go to bed at night and you know you helped someone that day,” he said.

To learn more about volunteering with AARP, call 866-448-3621 toll-free or email
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass.

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