It all began with counting the receipts from church envelopes when she was 12.
That’s Marilyn Henderson’s recollection of her first volunteering experience, though she laughs and says the term is a bit of a misnomer since her mother signed her, and her four older sisters, up for the task.
What would follow for Henderson, an Easton resident, is a rich life of giving back and volunteering wherever and whenever she saw a need.
This week, AARP Massachusetts honored Henderson, 66, for her extraordinary record of service to numerous organizations and causes, by presenting her with the 2014 Andrus Award for Community Service, the organization's highest honor for a volunteer in Massachusetts. The award was presented in Easton at a reception for Henderson and her family and friends.
Named for AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, the Andrus Award for Community Service is given annually to one outstanding volunteer in every state. A selection committee evaluates nominees based on a range of criteria, including how their volunteer work positively impacts the lives of individuals 50 and over, how their work improves the community, and how they inspire others to volunteer. To be eligible for the award, the accomplishments, achievements or service on which the nomination is based must have been performed on a volunteer basis, without pay, and reflect AARP’s vision and mission.
“AARP has long celebrated and recognized the achievement and important contributions of dedicated volunteers across the country,” said Linda Fitzgerald, state president, AARP Massachusetts. “We want to recognize Bay State residents age 50 and older who are making an impact and empowering seniors in their community.”
Name a social mission organization in Easton and chances are Henderson has been, or remains, a volunteer. According to Andrus Award nomination papers filed by friend Nancy Sullivan, Henderson has volunteered in Easton for the board of health, the council on aging, and election-related municipal government activities. Henderson has also worked tirelessly for her church, Holy Cross Catholic Church in Easton, leading and organizing seemingly countless events.
[Volunteering] makes you feel better about yourself—and you have fun. You don’t do any good for your psyche sitting home alone. Get out and do something for people!” — Marilyn Henderson of Easton
The Easton Lions Club has been the beneficiary of much of Henderson’s volunteer time, as well as her leadership abilities; she has held several positions on the organization’s executive board. For her work Henderson received the “Lion of the Month” award in September 2011; the Lion of the Year Award in 2012; and last year was named the Easton Lions Melvin Jones Fellow—the organization’s highest award, named for the international organization’s founder.
Henderson currently serves on TRIAD, a collaborative she joined three years ago, which brings together senior citizens, their community, and law enforcement, in an effort to keep seniors safe in their communities. Easton’s TRIAD is comprised of the Easton Police Department, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department, and the senior community of Easton.
Adversity, step aside
Not only has Henderson given back to myriad organizations, but she’s also done so amidst personal tragedy and serious health challenges. Her first son, Larry, now 44, was born prematurely after Henderson was in a car crash. Larry, who is legally blind and has cerebral palsy, lives with Henderson. It was advocating for Larry’s needs when he was school-age and the family lived in Brockton that propelled Henderson into speaking up, asking for what was needed, and then working hard to get things done. They moved to North Easton in 1979, eventually settling in Easton proper. Henderson’s other son, Mark, is 39, and is engaged to be married.
Henderson herself has endured breast cancer (undergoing a double-mastectomy), diabetes, and numerous other health challenges, was widowed eight years ago when her husband died at the age of 64.
Asked what keeps her going, Henderson said her faith and her sons. Sullivan, her friend and Lion Club colleague, wrote this about Henderson in the Andrus Award nomination paperwork: “She [Henderson] inspires others to volunteer. She has courage to face each day with positivism and a zest for life that is truly remarkable and inspiring. Marilyn treats others with dignity and respect … she naturally inspires others to join with her or find other ways to volunteer.”
Why others don’t volunteer more—or at all—perplexes Henderson. Saying that it’d be lonely to sit at home alone, she urges people to get out and be with others. “It makes you feel better about yourself—and you have fun. You don’t do any good for your psyche sitting home alone. Get out and do something for people!”
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of nearly 38 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. We advocate for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services. A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world's largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Español, a Spanish-language website addressing the interests and needs of Hispanics. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. The AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.