Volunteers have long been a critical part of our country’s history. The long and proud history of volunteering extends all the way back to the first colonies, when Americans provided for others in times of strife. Benjamin Franklin, for example, began the first volunteer firefighting company in 1736.
In wartime, in times of tragedy and in times of need, Americans have banded together to help each other. The more than 62 million volunteers today have deep roots for their service. The spirit of volunteering, for many of us, is no different and started early in life—whether we were involved in community activities, with church programs or just as neighbors helping neighbors.
I have always felt the desire to help the “downtrodden” or those who are most vulnerable due to their limited access to health and human services. My professional career in the field of public health exposed me to some of the barriers faced by individuals and communities with these care challenges. During my 10-year affiliation with AARP Texas as a volunteer, Executive Council member and currently as president, I have come to recognize even more the importance of being the “voice” of those who are vulnerable to societal changes that significantly impact their lives. Consequently, my volunteer commitment has continually gained momentum as these challenging issues are brought to the forefront through advocacy and education.
As an AARP volunteer, my commitment is also rooted in the legacy of our Association’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. Her drive to help others resulted in the founding of the National Retired Teachers Association and later AARP. Each day, I feel very fortunate to carry her torch, in some small way, by supporting AARP’s work in advocacy through local work, the AARP Foundation, and other activities.
As volunteers, each of us represents the “power of one.” We each have the potential to be impactful and relevant on the quality of life of so many older Texans and their families. We involve ourselves in supporting family caregivers, educating folks on fraud prevention, making our communities more livable and improving nursing home quality—along with helping keep Social Security and Medicare strong.
As I witness the great work that volunteers are doing throughout our state, I’m encouraged and moved by AARP’s increased visibility—whether through presentations, state capitol visits, social media, radio, TV, community fairs and other means. This visibility is evidence that the Association, through its volunteers and staff, is making a difference.
“Be the difference. Vote.” is AARP’s current midterm elections voter engagement motto. It addresses the power each one of us has to hold our candidates accountable for the positions they take. Volunteers are key to that effort. To all of you who serve as volunteers, I commend you for making a difference.
Charlene James is the volunteer president of AARP Texas.