By Melissa Preddy
Cathy Moore had modest expectations when she tagged along to an AARP volunteer meeting in Jackson three years ago.
“I honestly thought AARP was all about consumer discounts,” said Moore, 68. “After finding out AARP is so involved in helping the community, I thought, OK, this is something I can do.”
Today, Moore is the lead volunteer coordinator in her region of Michigan. She and her team have canvassed Flint neighborhoods to help residents there get new water pipes, lobbied state lawmakers on health care policy and organized Movies for Grownups presentations. Last year she danced in an AARP “Disrupt Aging” flash mob video that went viral.
Moore, whose past occupations include managing claims for a union and working at a funeral home, said AARP volunteerism is a perfect outlet for her can-do energy, compassionate spirit and troubleshooting skills. “I like to learn and I like to share what I learn,” she said.
April is National Volunteer Month, which celebrates the work of people like Moore and more than 250 other AARP volunteers across Michigan. Their efforts are vital to the many events and seminars that help AARP’s 1.4 million members in the state. The topics they handle range from finances to fitness, Medicare to caregiving.
Volunteers outnumber AARP state staffers by 23 to 1 and are the primary drivers of programming and new ideas, said Jennifer Feuerstein, AARP associate state director.
“As AARP staff, our job is to empower our volunteers and facilitate their ideas—not the other way around,” Feuerstein said.
Matching interests, needs
When Chris Tarpoff retired from the health, disability and life insurance business, he used his expertise to educate AARP members about the Affordable Care Act and Medicare.
Soon, Tarpoff was involved in legislative advocacy through the informal Capitol Corps of volunteers who meet with state lawmakers.
“Volunteers can find a niche that suits their interests and skills,” said Tarpoff, 72, of East Lansing. “And we can spend as much or as little time as we choose.”
John Ziemann, 76, a lead volunteer in the Grand Rapids area, got started with AARP by mining his career-long experience organizing large conferences. These days, he’s in the thick of several AARP-related activities and has written pamphlets and fact sheets to educate prospective volunteers and members.
“I love it, because I can do the things I enjoy, and know that it’s helping people,” he said.
Ziemann’s latest brainstorm is AARP on Tap, which links the Grand Rapids area’s lively beer scene with his desire to provide a fun event for local members.
The meet-ups, which began in January, are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 4 to 6:30 p.m., rotating through a variety of brewpubs. AARP Michigan is alerting members to the events through mailings and social media.
“We’re scheduled through March 2019,” Ziemann said. “It’s like Happy Hour for AARP.”
Many Michiganders are active in AARP’s national programs. In the state, more than 1,000 volunteers offer tax-return preparation through AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide, and 65 volunteers staff AARP Smart Driver courses.
Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth, Mich.