AARP Eye Center
When Mark Giorgini began volunteering to help AARP Minnesota advocate at the state Legislature, he was nervous. “I had never spoken to a legislator about a policy issue before,” says Giorgini, 67, of Mendota Heights.
But with training and support, the retired lawyer and human resources professional has helped the AARP Minnesota Advocacy Team score big wins at the state capitol over the past seven years.
Its 100-plus volunteers are invaluable in keeping important topics front and center with lawmakers, says Erin Parrish, director of advocacy and outreach at AARP Minnesota. But more help is needed as the organization prepares to tackle 2023 priorities, which include paid family leave and strengthening the state’s long-term care system.
“The team is at the capitol every week talking with legislators about these issues, and it is their tenacity that helps pass legislation,” Parrish says.
Big rewards, big agenda
For Giorgini, the experience has been deeply rewarding. He advocated for passage of a 2019 law requiring licensure for assisted living facilities, aimed at protecting older adults from abuse and neglect. The law also allows families to install cameras in residents’ rooms.
This year, the AARP team helped secure a $50 million grant to expand access to high-speed internet service to underserved areas. State lawmakers also agreed to increase the income cap for the federal Supple-mental Nutrition Assistance Program, making about 1,400 more Minnesota households eligible.
“The volunteer experience is something to keep my head active, and it’s important to keep making a contribution,” Giorgini says. “And it’s fun.”
He notes that because team members come from different careers and usually volunteer long-term, they can learn a lot from each other’s experience. “It’s not a transient group of people who come in and do something and then walk away,” Giorgini says.
AARP has a full agenda for this legislative session, Parrish says, starting with a bill that stalled last year to protect people receiving long-term care in facilities or at home. Other priorities include the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which would provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for an illness or to care for a family member, and investments to bolster the long-term care system.
Parrish notes that advocacy volunteers work alongside AARP Minnesota staff.
“I tell people that you do not need to be a policy expert to do this work,” she says. “This is what anyone with a voice and a drive to make change can do.”
Advocates may work at the capitol, in the community or at home, by making phone calls or writing letters to legislators and news outlets, she says.
Volunteers meet monthly online for updates and discussion. The time commitment varies, but they can work as little as two hours a month. “We recognize that AARP members and older adults are busy,” Parrish says.
Giorgini says he’s particularly excited to tackle long-term care issues, including the cost of insurance and care standards for home health agencies. Those are “close to my heart,” he says.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Erin Parrish at email@example.com or 651-726-5644; or visit aarp.org/volunteer.
Mary Van Beusekom is a writer living in Excelsior, Minnesota.
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