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AARP AARP States Oregon Advocacy

Caregiving journey leads to volunteerism with AARP - a President's Perspective

Elaine Friesen-Strang


This is the first in a new series of blogs by the Oregon State Volunteer President

Two months after my father's death, I responded to an article in the AARP Bulletin seeking new volunteers in Oregon. To be honest, I knew more about the organization’s advertisements than its policies. My situation had not been unlike many baby boomers--I was working full time while carrying out the responsibilities of a devoted daughter. As my father's Power of Attorney, my heart ached when I signed the papers moving him into an adult care home two years earlier. Even if I had the time to personally care for him, my husband and I lived in a home that was far from age-friendly. So my sister and I took turns visiting our father, taking him to appointments, monitoring his care and needs. I don't know if it was the exhaustion or the guilt that prompted my resignation from a job I loved, but it was one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made.


That following month, I became a regular fixture in his home. When I reminisced about our fishing and camping adventures, I wasn't sure if my father understood my words or was merely comforted by my voice, but there was no mistaking his smile. And when I sensed his time was short, I made the decisive call to my siblings, my husband and our children; we were all together when my 93 year old father took his last breath.


Suddenly, I found myself an unemployed 58-year-old without a clear path ahead of me. Happening upon the article in The Bulletin was providential. Sometimes it's best not to tip toe into things--you need to jump in with both feet. There's a lot at AARP you can jump into. Turns out what I was doing all those years was called "caregiving"; AARP offers supports for that. In their later years, my parents relied heavily on Social Security; financial resilience and protecting Social Security is another priority for AARP. I've become a strong advocate for AARP's Livable Communities Policies; my father could have put off his move to an assisted living center had there been a sidewalk paving the way to a neighborhood market.


As the new AARP Oregon Volunteer State President, I am humbled by the task before me. Oregon has over half a million AARP members. Hats off to our 1,700 volunteers, including 1,300 in Tax Aide, 130 in Drivers Safety, and all those advocating for what we need to live our best lives--whether that involves our finances, ability to care for loved ones, or how our neighborhoods respond to the needs of people of all ages, all abilities.


I remember the Modern Maturity Magazine on my parents' coffee table. In true inter-generational spirit, my Millennial-age children share what would have been their grandparents' delight in my new appointment. They get it: AARP is creating a better future for all of us. Echoing Ethel Percy Andrus, "What we do, we do for all." I’m looking forward to working with and on behalf of all you in the next few years.

To share you own caregiving journey - and to read the stories of others - go to I heart caregivers. The website also has helpful tips and tools for family caregivers.

A President's Perspective is an occasional blog written by AARP Oregon's Volunteer State President, Elaine Friesen-Strang. While her degrees were in Liberal Arts, Elaine's professional career was in social services. She became a volunteer for AARP following her father's death and is proud to support AARP's policies and advocacy efforts to create communities where everyone can thrive, regardless of age or ability. Elaine and her husband live in NE Portland and have two grown children.
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