When AARP Rhode Island volunteer leader Julia Valles invites people over for supper, it's a big job. She has taken on the task of organizing and running AARP's "Community Suppers" at the St. Martin de Porres Community Center in Providence's West End.
"With Julia in charge, we know we are in great hands," says AARP Associate State Director for Community Outreach Deborah Miller. "This is a model for AARP empowering volunteers to focus their interest, expertise and passion on activity that is important to the people we serve. Julia does a terrific job and she inspires other volunteers who have come onboard to make our suppers a success."
The monthly twilight meals are an AARP-Meals on Wheels Rhode Island partnership aimed at getting people to take advantage of the community center. The events have an educational component and feature live entertainment. But the suppers also encourage a healthier lifestyle -- getting out, being active, enjoying a nutritious meal and socializing with others.
We talked to Julia about the Community Suppers and being an AARP volunteer.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you joined AARP?
I'm a Rhode Island native and a long-time higher education administrator and educator. I retired about 2 years ago.
How long have you been an AARP volunteer?
In 2009 I was taking a gerontology course to complete my certification and the course required that I perform an internship. My advisor (clearly based on my age) suggested I consider AARP. I met with several staff members and it turned out to be a perfect match for what I hoped to accomplish and what AARP needed. At the end of the internship/semester, I signed on as a volunteer.
What motivates you to give up the time and energy required to be involved in something like this?
It was tough working and giving enough time to AARP but somehow I managed and found AARP to be a place steeped in the educational process. The learning and teaching environment is what I need to keep me motivated. AARP has delivered on that front. Since retiring I am energized and truly feel I am on the receiving end of the satisfaction of doing AARP's work in the urban West End of Providence. Deborah Miller anointed me "lead" volunteer in Community Presence, and the role is growing. Deborah and I are partners in this endeavor, establishing ourselves as a resource in our commitment to a three-year plan for AARP to reach different populations
How would you describe the folks who have been turning out for our events?
The West End Community is a study of different cultures and the ever-changing demographics that exist-its the ebb and flow that makes our work interesting. Some folks who attend the monthly AARP sponsored dinners may no longer live in the area but they return to connect with old friends and make new ones. We hope to make an impact and banish the isolation that might exist with our seniors. We are making progress with the 35 or so who turn up each month. The affordable supper is certainly a plus.
What has been the general response to the Community Suppers?
All who attend give kudos to AARP--they enjoy the entertainment, the information about AARP's many programs, presently we are focusing on the health care law and its impact--the educational piece is vital.
What can you say you get out doing this?
Surely what I give to my fellow seniors pales in comparison to what I receive in return.