AARP Eye Center
AARP Experience Corps volunteer Rosalyn Gross enjoys reading with Liberty Elementary student Madison Powell. Photo by Matt Roth
By Sheila Gibbons
Rosalyn Gross recalls how tough the sixth grade was. Convinced she couldn’t read, barely passing tests, she drew the attention of a teacher who refused to accept the status quo.
“He put me in spelling bees when I couldn’t spell. He would make me do presentations when I didn’t want to be in front of people,” said Gross, 63. “I didn’t appreciate the fact that he pushed me so hard.”
But his was a gift that keeps on giving. Gross is now an AARP Experience Corps volunteer, teaching students from preschool to fourth grade how—you guessed it—to read. The Baltimore native, who joined Experience Corps after 38 years with the Federal Reserve Bank, logs 17 hours a week at Baltimore’s Liberty and Langston Hughes elementary schools.
“If you’re not reading or doing math by third grade, school is like a prison,” Gross said. “As often as we can, we need to encourage children to believe they really are capable of doing it. Once they’re convinced, they’ll put more effort into it. I tell fourth-graders they can do it or they wouldn’t be in this class.”
Participants say Experience Corps provides a two-way benefit, offering children and older people a dynamic intergenerational exchange. “It keeps us current,” Gross said.
Renee Fredericksen also had childhood experiences that shaped her interest in volunteering. Older people in her Minnesota neighborhood were “people you could go to for advice, who offered discipline when you needed it, and were always there to cheer you on.”
When they became frail, she would do yard work, help clean their houses or even spend the night if they were afraid to be alone.
In 1978, she began working on aging issues with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, encountering retirees who, after moving to their vacation homes, became more isolated than they’d expected. Providing continuity of care became her passion.
Fredericksen became the department’s legislative liaison before moving to Salisbury in 2009. There she became special projects director for MAC Inc., an Area Agency on Aging.
Accomplishing the mission
Fredericksen, 63, joined AARP Maryland’s Executive Council in 2013 and advocates for state legislation addressing the needs of older people, particularly bills supportive of caregivers. On her crowded calendar this summer: a series of “Community Conversations” asking people how to make their communities more livable.
Christy Page, AARP Maryland outreach director, said the state office tries to match the hundreds of AARP volunteers with their “passions and experience. Without them we would not be able to accomplish our mission.”
Ted Peterkin, 60, of Brandywine, retired from the Army certified to drive a dozen types of vehicles, including forklifts, buses and tanks. To maintain his skills, he signed up for the AARP Driver Safety course in 2011. It was a match; in less than a year, he became its program coordinator for Maryland, which has miles of rural roads and legendary traffic congestion around Baltimore and Washington.
“The passion I have is giving our seniors the tools they need so they can continue to extend their driving independence,” he said, all too aware that when older people lose confidence in their driving and give it up, “the outcome is not too good.”
Traffic patterns have changed since his students began driving, so they learn to adjust their judgment and timing. “Making a proper left turn is the hardest thing,” Peterkin said.
AARP rolled out a new Smart Driver curriculum in January. The four-hour course, which has about 6,500 participants in Maryland each year, has another benefit: Some companies offer an auto insurance discount.
Interested in volunteering with AARP Maryland? Contact Page at 866-542-8163 toll-free or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheila Gibbons is a writer and editor based in Colton's Point, Md.