AARP Eye Center
Throughout her career, Theresa Chaklos found satisfaction connecting people with resources that could help them improve their lives.
Now that she’s retired and volunteering for AARP Massachusetts, the issues are different, but the sense of purpose is the same.
“For me, it’s about empowering people,” says Chaklos, 67, who retired in 2019 as a facilitator with the Family Court Self-Help Center in Washington. She delivers presentations for AARP on caregiving and brain health. Audiences “appreciate the information you give them, and it makes you feel needed,” she says.
It’s that feeling that fuels the drive of many AARP volunteers — more than 800 in Massachusetts. They teach people fraud prevention and safe driving, and they advocate on issues including Social Security and Medicare.
Right now, AARP is looking to bolster those volunteer ranks with people of different ages who are skilled in a range of subjects — for any amount of time.
“There are so many roles and different issues,” says Sandra Harris, the organization’s volunteer state president. “No matter your interest, there is a place for you.”
Chaklos’ journey to busy volunteerism began after stepping away from paid work and, several months later, moving to Burlington to live with her daughter. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet as she transitioned to her new home, Chaklos knew she wanted to volunteer with a couple of organizations.
“Volunteering gave me a way to not feel so isolated during such a crazy time,” she says. “It’s just so purposeful.”
AARP was one organization she picked. Years earlier, her mother had been an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer, so Chaklos knew the impact volunteers could have. She devotes about 20 hours a month to AARP. In her presentations on caregiving, Chaklos draws on her own experience dealing with illness.
“People get caught up spinning their wheels, ruminating. They don’t see the path forward,” she says. “You bring to the table your own experiences and combine that with the information that AARP provides.”
As Chaklos was stepping up during COVID, other volunteers were stepping down — leading to the recruitment drive. Harris, the state president, says time commitments are flexible for most volunteers, who can pick a role that suits their interests, whether behind the scenes or more public. Training is provided.
Harris, 72, of Boston, was the principal in an interior design firm that specialized in senior living. She started volunteering with AARP, and with Boston’s age-friendly initiative, in 2014, using her professional background to try to make the city more welcoming and accessible.
She’s also cochair of a Massachusetts task force working to combat social isolation and loneliness. Harris says she’s never been busier: “My knowledge, experience and wisdom are valued. I’m seen and I’m heard.”
AARP Massachusetts focuses on those 50 and older but welcomes volunteers of all ages. Andrea Cordis, for one, is an occupational therapist who works at Bay Path University in Longmeadow. She started volunteering with CarFit — an initiative that includes AARP, AAA and the American Occupational Therapy Association — when she was 32.
“We go through a checklist to make sure the vehicle is safe and fits the driver,” says Cordis, now 47 and also a volunteer presenter for AARP’s HomeFit program. A Wilbraham resident, Cordis says she uses the CarFit curriculum with her occupational therapy students, and some of them get involved as volunteers.
To join in, go to aarp.org/ma.
AARP Massachusetts is holding a special online event June 14th at Noon to share and explore all of it's unique volunteering opportunities. If you're interested register here.
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury.
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