AARP volunteers are in a class of their own! They bring a lifetime of experience, passion for the well-being of their community and a desire to serve. This year, we will be featuring other AARP volunteer leaders who are working on behalf of 50+ Oregonians and their families in our state.
On this blog, we are excited to share our conversation with Sandy Grzeskowiak, a long-time AARP Oregon volunteer who has dedicated many hours on a variety of projects and issues.
Sandy, tell us about yourself?
My name is Sandy Grzeskowiak. I am a baby boomer, retired middle school math teacher, and Gramma. I lived almost half my life in Buffalo, New York before moving to Corvallis where I raised two children who went on to become a Nurse and a School Superintendent. My parents lived in Corvallis and I was their caregiver. I ended up putting mom in an Alzheimer care unit and then took care of dad at home for three years. After 30 years in Corvallis, I moved to Clackamas to be near my grandchildren following an unexpected divorce after thirty-four years of marriage.
I am currently engaged two days a week working with special needs kids in our public schools. One morning a week I volunteer at the nutrition desk at our local senior center. I have been remarried for almost 8 years.
How long have you volunteered with AARP and what drew you to AARP?
Wow, has it been ten years already that I have volunteered with AARP? I had taken the AARP Drivers Safety class in Corvallis and only wished I had taken it at 50! After moving to Clackamas though, I attended a meeting about age-friendly communities hosted by Clackamas County, Oregon State University and AAARP where I learned about volunteering with AARP and then connected with staff.
At first, I had a real connection with caregiving. As a recent caregiver, I was able to share my own story at AARP caregiver education forums and events. But as I got to know the organization more, I learned that there were just seven staff running the organization for the state. I saw the care, presentations, materials, and an undying passion for the aging population. I saw the vast array of who they are and what they do in my community, state, and nation and I started helping the State office on whatever they needed.
I had the opportunity to take several trainings and I felt I was always prepared and had good materials and support before engaging in AARP activities. This training process is ongoing and updated regularly.
What do you like best about volunteering with AARP?
I feel empowered to help and make a difference in my community. I really like the wide variety of activities available to engage in. I enjoy working with our community partners. Currently I serve on the Clackamas County Housing Board and our Parks Board to name a few. I am enjoying meeting people at NeighborTalks and getting my workout with NeighborWalks! Just last night I was engaged in Movies for Grownups!
What is one successful highlight from your experience as an AARP volunteer?
I believe it would have to be advocacy. I can’t imagine I would ever go to the Oregon State Capital at least annually if it were not as an AARP volunteer. That I would be sitting in the offices of Senators and Representatives sharing my story and advocating for change, is powerful to me. I have also had the opportunity to meet with our members of congress in their district offices. I am engaged in action-based phone calls and petitions and know I am working for real change.
I remember a time when we entered my representative’s office once and talked with him about a piece of legislation he was not in favor of. We then went and watched from the gallery as the legislation came to vote. My representative votes yes! Wow, I was so moved and came to really believe that we as individuals/collectively can make a difference in our government.
AARP is working on a number of important issues right now, from prescription drug pricing, age discrimination, affordable and accessible housing, and transportation, livability and more. Of these other issues that AARP works on, what is the most important to you and why?
The most important issue for me is affordable health care! Without your health I feel nothing else matters. So, I want to see Medicare strengthened, prescription drug prices lowered, and have access to quality care from your provider when you need it.
What would you say to someone considering volunteering with AARP?
If you have lived a life, then you are already connected to so many of the priorities AARP works on. If you choose to become a volunteer, the direction you choose will be based on what is of interest to you. You will have the opportunities to use many of your professional and life skills. If you want something new, the opportunity for that is there and you’re appropriately trained and supported. You can choose what, how much, and how frequently you volunteer.
Generally, you just have to do four to six engagements to be considered an active volunteer. But you can always choose o do more! You are always treated with respect. Volunteering with AARP is an attempt to match you, your skills, desires, with AARP’s priorities and needs.
What is your passion or occupation outside AARP?
My number one passion is to travel! I enjoy researching and getting great deals as well. I have been to Asia, Europe, New Zealand, and so many places in this amazing beautiful country we call home. I plan to do that for many years to come.