Marie Foster turned 90 in November. She is now frail and only a shadow of her once powerful self. She spends her days confined to her home, apart from her friends with whom she once spent time socializing, laughing at the stories of the past, and wondering what the future would bring. Few are left who share those memories that bring her such joy. Late in life, following the loss of her daughter, she became guardian of three grandchildren, one of whom lives with her still, and is one of the few people with whom she has contact.
In a March virtual meeting of her local AARP chapter, one of Marie’s neighbors encouraged fellow members to reach out to her. Marie has been suffering from isolation and loneliness. Because of health and aging issues, Marie has not been able to attend in-person meetings for some years. Because of a lack of access to needed technology, she has not been able to log on to the Zoom meetings her chapter has been holding during the pandemic. Marie is one of those who fall into the category of collateral damage from Covid-19.
It wasn’t always this way for Marie. More than a half-century ago, Marie was a community coordinator for AARP in the early days of its volunteer structure. She played a critical role in helping to lead early collaborations between AARP and the League of Older Americans, the forerunner of the Local Office of Aging (LOA) in Roanoke, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Frequently simply called The League, it began in a craft consignment shop for seniors known as Calico Corner on the Roanoke City Market.
LOA is now the second-oldest area agency on aging (AAA) in Virginia, which now has 25 AAAs across the state. Its initial services included a senior citizen identification card, LOA News, Foster Grandparents and senior employment programs and soon grew to include nutritional programs—Diners Club and Meals on Wheels—added in 1974 and 1975 respectively. Currently, programs provided by LOA have expanded to 32 community-based services, including assisted transportation, chronic disease self-management, emergency services, insurance counseling, Senior Medicare Patrol, Soup for Seniors, fall prevention, legal assistance, and many others.
In its early days, when LOA identified clients whose homes needed modifications, Marie’s AARP chapter members made the home modifications needed to allow those clients to remain in their homes, according to Bill Kallio, AARP Virginia state director from 1998 to 2015.
LOA was a major partner with AARP, along with Roanoke TRIAD, on the very successful media campaign called “Fraud Free Roanoke.” Roanoke TRIAD is an alliance between law enforcement and older Virginians with the focus on reducing fear of crime by increasing awareness of scams and frauds that target them. With its tagline “Don’t Fall for a Telephone Line,” raising awareness of telephone scams was part of its focus.
“Divided We Fail” was another collaborative project that involved AARP and LOA and other organizations. The campaign, begun in 2009, worked to improve health care and financial security issues for people 50-plus.
For her work with AARP and LOA, Marie was one of the first winners of the Ethel P. Andrus Award for Community Service, the most prestigious award an AARP volunteer can receive, named after the organization’s founder, Ethel Percy Andrus. The award cited Marie’s extraordinary contributions to the work of the two organizations and she received an all-expense-paid trip to the AARP convention held that year. She was chosen out of many, to represent a region of states.
Marie is one of scores of AARP members in the Roanoke area, including those from the AARP SW Roanoke chapter #4652 and the Eureka chapter #0914 in Roanoke, who have volunteered and served with the Local Office on Aging. King Harvey of the Eureka chapter and Priscilla Casey, president of the SW Roanoke chapter, serve on the LOA Advisory Council, as does Judy Dickerson, an AARP Virginia community ambassador who is also a key volunteer in the annual Soup for Seniors drive.
Russell Schiavone, also an AARP community ambassador, volunteered for years in the LOA Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (VICAP) and now works part-time for the organization. Joyce Williams, a SW Roanoke chapter member, community ambassador and AARP Virginia state president, volunteers with their monthly food box delivery service and helps coordinate Roanoke County Schools’ donations to the annual Soup for Seniors drive which involves dozens of AARP volunteers in a typical year and has been in operation for more than a decade.
AARP has been a source of numerous grants to LOA over the years to foster many other efforts. AARP was instrumental in assisting LOA’s work in securing the certification of the City of Roanoke as the fifth Age Friendly Community in the commonwealth. AARP partnered with the American Family Care (AFC) neighborhood assessment in creating the City of Roanoke Action Plan. Several state and local AARP employees have served as AFC stakeholders.
In a recent interview, Ron Boyd, president, and CEO of the Local Office on Aging, lauded its relationship with AARP as “always being willing to collaborate when missions align, such as participation in LOA’s Caregiver Conferences.”
Recently, a direct mailing to seniors and radio ads were implemented by AARP to help notify seniors that safe and secure transportation to receive Covid-19 vaccinations was available through LOA.
Because of the close partnership between the two organizations, several AARP volunteers have been awarded for their service by LOA. Lorraine Bratton won the Babe & Sidney Louis Memorial Award in 2012, as did Joyce Williams in 2014. Russell Schiavone won the Helen I. Phelps Award in 2017, as did Judy Dickerson in 2018.
Marie Foster is humble about the impact she had on the development of the AARP volunteer structure, which has evolved into what exists today. While her memory now is fuzzy about details, she clearly remembers the joy she felt to be able to contribute to the well being of the Roanoke community through her service with AARP and LOA.
She was thrilled during a recent visit with AARP State President Joyce Williams, to know that she had been remembered and singled out by Kallio as being so important to the AARP volunteer initiative and the start of the LOA-AARP partnership. The chapter member who had encouraged other members to reach out to Marie reported that Marie had called her to say how pleased and excited she was to be part of this article.
Williams said in a statement: “Thank you, Marie Foster, for paving the way for the LOA-AARP partnership that exists today and congratulations to LOA on its 50th anniversary celebration. The services it provides to Roanoke and the surrounding area are invaluable. AARP Virginia is proud of its partnership with LOA and looks forward to continued collaboration in the future.”
LOA is ever in need of volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with LOA you may click here for more information. Private donations play a critical role in funding the many services of LOA. To learn about opportunities to donate, or if you would like to contribute to LOA, click here. For information about joining AARP Virginia as a volunteer, you may click here.