By Tamara Lytle
When Suba Saty was growing up in small towns in Iowa and Tennessee, his was the only family from India, so teachers often asked him to give short speeches about his native country.
Saty further developed his speaking talent in the Air Force before he retired as a lieutenant colonel. “It was fun presenting to a group, sharing ideas, connecting with the audience,” he said.
Now Saty, 60, of Fairfax Station in Northern Virginia, uses those same skills and energy as part of AARP Virginia’s Speakers Bureau, presenting lectures on topics such as avoiding fraud or retrofitting homes to make them accessible as people age.
One of the most popular hour-long presentations is “The Five Pillars of Brain Health,” which focuses on exercise, staying socially engaged, eating healthfully, learning new things and relaxing.
“People are staying alive longer, but they want to make sure they are healthy,” said Saty, whose full name is Subhaker Satyanarayan.
The talks are free and given at libraries and community centers and to veterans groups, homeowner associations and churches. “It’s interacting with people. That’s what gives me passion to do it,” Saty explained.
AARP gives speakers the information, but they can add their own knowledge and local resources. AARP Virginia is looking for more presenters, especially those who are bilingual, said Amber Sultane, community outreach director. To volunteer, go to aarp.org/iwant2volunteer or call toll-free 866-542-8164.
With 11 volunteer speakers and 75 presentations last year, Northern Virginia is the most active area for the program. The brain health talk, and ones on Medicare and Social Security, are among the most popular, Sultane said.
learning from the audience
The programs help people plan ahead instead of waiting for a crisis. Donna Newman-Robinson of Fredericksburg, for instance, presents “Prepare to Care,” which gets people thinking about caregiving before there’s an urgent need. It covers planning for future caregiving, tapping into local resources and developing a support team.
Newman-Robinson, 61, a retired Army Nurse Corps officer, also presents the brain health program. She said she enjoys the volunteer work, especially helping fellow veterans.
“I love doing it. Speaking and being a part of the community fuels my passion and purpose.”
Like Saty, she said she learns from the presentations and interactions with the audience.
Many of the volunteers also leverage their connections to other volunteer work.
Ron Styles was in information technology for IBM before retiring and turning those skills to the hobby of genealogy. He’s active with genealogy groups, including those focusing on African Americans. He presents AARP’s African American genealogy talk, which helps people navigate the difficulties of the dearth of records on ancestors who were slaves.
“You know more about yourself and why you are the way you are if you understand your ancestors,” said Styles, 74, who lives in the Richmond area.
Retiree Russell Schiavone, 62, from Roanoke, gives both the caregiving and Medicare presentations. He said he loves sending the audience home with an armload of handouts with useful information. When people become eligible for Medicare, the book they get in the mail can be very confusing, so his speech helps them understand their options.
“We like to keep our members educated and informed about all the wonderful things that come with getting older,” Schiavone said.
Upcoming presentations are listed at aarp.org/va under Local Events. Groups can request a speaker at states.aarp.org/speakerrequest or 866-542-8164.
Tamara Lytle is a freelance writer in Vienna, Va.