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Meet AARP Volunteer Carol Downs of Alexandria

Carol and Stuart Downs
Carol with her husband Stuart.

Carol Downs is one of our volunteers who simply cannot get enough out of life. She has a penchant for curiosity and considers herself to be a lifetime student. While she enjoys larger group activities, she is just as satisfied having a heart to heart with a close friend or simply enjoying her own company. Carol is exceptionally hard working but makes most tasks seem effortless with her cheerful and resourceful attitude. In group settings, she excels at being diplomatic and compassionate, but her best trait is her propensity to say yes in just about any situation—something AARP greatly values in her as a volunteer.

Carol grew up in the diverse area of Springdale, PA and one of her earliest memories is sitting propped up against Rachel Carson’s house to see if she could feel some of her “spirit” through the walls. Upon her high school graduation, Carol attended Teachers College of Connecticut and eventually got an MSW from Catholic University of America. Carol considers her professional career to be rather “checkered”; first working as a school teacher in an experimental school, next working with 3M corporation in marketing, and eventually getting a MA in Social Work at age 55. Since 1993, Carol has focused her attention on issues related to aging-- including elder abuse and exploitation; domestic and spousal abuse; health and policy issues that impact older women; support groups for men and women who have experienced cancer; and most recently as the Executive Director of a volunteer based non-profit in Vienna, VA that provides services to seniors. Since 2008, Carol has been devoting much of her time to AARP and the Alexandria Commission on Aging but claims the only way to keep her sanity intact is to have frequent contact with her seven grandkids.

One of Carol’s main reasons for giving so much time and support to AARP is our commitment to a fact-based approach on all issues. She appreciates that AARP doesn’t jump the gun and takes the time to research all sides of a story before making a public commitment or statement. She feels AARP is the most informative organization for the 50+ population. She especially supports AARP’s initiative to give caregivers support since so many Americans will either be the caregiver or receive care at some point in their lives. Her biggest pet peeve is people who think AARP is only an insurance company that provides discounts for senior citizens. She believes AARP needs to do a better job of informing the general public of all the support AARP provides for them.

Carol does not think of the 50+ population as a monolithic group, she believes that people age at different speeds and in different ways and we need to accommodate these differences. Likewise, older adults need to be open for change within, for what they believe at 55 may be flipped on its head by age 75. Carol would like younger generations to know that:

  • Aging is not a bad thing.
  • Get to know older individuals on a personal level.  Let them know who you are, your dreams, what you cherish, what you bring to humanity. Then, discover how similar you are.
  • Age should not be a barrier or a way of dismissing each other – it should be an entrée into understanding how each of us has a unique place in our world.

When Carol isn’t volunteering she tries her best to walk 10,000 steps a day, garden, enjoy time with friends and family, and inflicting new recipes on her unsuspecting husband. She vows to: “Try my hardest NOT to raise my hand…when I hear the expression, “ We need someone to…

AARP thanks Carol for her dedication to our mission and her service to our community.  The world is a better place because of volunteers like Carol Downs!

Written by Laura Szakmary
Communications Intern
AARP Virginia

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