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AARP South Carolina Volunteers Continue Their Work Despite Pandemic

Volunteer

Darrell Eickhoff, 73, of Conway, began as an occasional volunteer driver for the Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) program, taking people to appointments in the Myrtle Beach area.

“I appreciate the opportunity to give back,” said Eickhoff, who served 28 years with the Medical Service Corps of the Air Force and is a member of the AARP South Carolina Executive Council.

As Eickhoff got more involved, he worked with AARP to help expand transportation services for  older adults. Currently board chairman of Coast RTA, the bus service for Horry and Georgetown counties, he pushed for funding for its paratransit program. 

It now has a fleet of 12 wheelchair-accessible vans and provides more than 1,500 rides a month to older residents for nonemergency needs.

Volunteers are the key to AARP’s outreach to South Carolinians, said Teresa Arnold, its state director. 

“They are our advocacy muscle. They direct our policy with their incredible life expertise,” she said. “And they bring heart to their work.”

Relationships and rewards

AARP volunteers can choose their level of investment, said Sheree Muse, AARP South Carolina community outreach director. 

For some it may mean making deliveries from food banks or simply emailing state legislators. Some volunteers branch into new areas of interest, while others use skills honed during their working years. 

“Life doesn’t end when you retire,” Muse said. “You still have skills and knowledge to make an impact in your community.”

Most hands-on volunteer tasks, along with big AARP-sponsored events like Senior Day at the state fair, came to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Outreach to at-risk veterans had to be curtailed, for instance. Still, volunteers found other ways to stay involved.

For example, Muse said they contacted political candidates in the fall, pressing them on issues of concern to older adults, such as prescription drug costs. 

A team of volunteers launched a digital version of the AARP Speakers Bureau. By phone and email, advocates pressed for transparency about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and urged funding for the federal CARES Act and expanding internet access for telehealth.

Emma McGraw Myers, 67, of Columbia, AARP volunteer state president, used her experience as a caregiver for relatives with dementia to create workshops, resources and support for other caregivers.

Myers also helped create a program to install thousands of LED light bulbs for older residents, enhancing home safety.

“AARP gives volunteers an opportunity to pursue their passions,” she said.

John Ruoff, 72, also of Columbia, had a long career as a policy analyst. He continues that as an AARP volunteer specializing in utility and energy issues.

“My wife used to say that I never had a real job. ‘You get up happy to go to work every day.’ So why wouldn’t I want to continue that?” 

He added: “It’s very satisfying personally. At AARP there are lots of ways to fit in. There’s a role for everyone.”

No experience is necessary to volunteer, and AARP provides training. To learn more, visit aarp.org/volunteer or call 866-389-5655. 

Linda Lamb is a writer living in Columbia.

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