By Sheila O. Schimpf
When Annie Mae Holt retired as a Detroit public school teacher in 2011, she had business cards printed that said “Retired with a purpose.”
That purpose is to improve lives. She started volunteering at the AARP information center in Midtown Detroit the month she retired. She became the volunteer who would take on any task.
“I really, really have a passion for the work AARP does as an advocate for seniors,” she said.
She tells people about the Healthy Michigan Plan, which offers low-cost health care for low-income residents. She is knowledgeable about issues such as what the end of landline telephones might mean for older people and how various bills pending in the Legislature would affect them.
“AARP support is genuine,” she said. “It’s trustworthy.”
When she volunteers, Holt, 68, uses skills she learned as a teacher when facing criticism and negativity from her working life such as dealing with the public. “My strategy is to be patient and assume some of the comments people make are not personal,” she said. “All people, even eighth graders, love to be stroked.”
Helping others helps her, too, she said. “I feel it is my responsibility as a senior to contribute to the quality of life of every person whom I encounter, with the expectation that if I am contributing to the enhancement of life for others, I feel good. My quality of life is enhanced.”
Volunteers are healthier
That was what Randee Bloom, 60, of West Bloomfield, learned in a study she did of Michigan AARP volunteers in October 2013.
“They have better vital signs than their cohorts who don’t volunteer. In doing the service, you actually help yourself be more healthy,” said Bloom, a member of the all-volunteer AARP executive council in Michigan.
AARP volunteers say they like meeting people and making friends, Bloom said. “They came for the work but stayed for the relationships.”
AARP Michigan has about 200 appointed volunteers who work on programs such as Fraud Watch Network, plus hundreds more who work on programs including Driver Safety and AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, said Mark Hornbeck, AARP Michigan communications director.
Volunteers have varied backgrounds. About 8 percent are under 50. Many are over 60.
Chris Tarpoff, a retired insurance agent in East Lansing, found his skills suited to advocacy at the nearby state Capitol. Well versed in long-term care issues, Tarpoff explains AARP positions on bills such as the CARE Act, which would require hospitals to instruct caregivers how to care for patients after they are discharged.
Tarpoff, 69, retired in June 2013 and joined the AARP speakers bureau. “AARP is well-organized and has the resources and knowledge to be able to truly be of help,” he said. “I like to be involved in doing things that help things get better.” He makes calls, writes letters and sends emails to legislators.
He also is on the AARP committee organizing the Oct. 22 Capital Area Transportation Forum in Lansing. Its focus is on the ways people move about and the environmental impact of transportation.
“The work that we do is very satisfying,” Tarpoff said. “By giving, we are receiving. That’s why we are here—to serve one another.”
Cindy LaBelle volunteers as state coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety program. She teaches and works with volunteers in three programs: the Smart Driver course, which 1,850 Michigan drivers took in classrooms last year, the CarFit program, which adjusts a car to its driver; and the We Need to Talk program, which discusses when people should give up driving.
“My husband was killed in a traffic crash a few years ago,” said LaBelle, 69, of Sand Lake. “I understand the importance of driver safety and awareness on the road. I wanted to do something positive in his memory.”
LaBelle has worked with many AARP volunteers. “A successful volunteer is a people person,” she said.
To volunteer for AARP Michigan, contact Careena Eggleston, AARP Michigan volunteer coordinator, at 517-267-8900 or email@example.com.
Sheila O. Schimpf is a writer living in East Lansing, Mich.