AARP Statement on the Occasion of the 2012 United Nations International Volunteer Day
Publish Date: December
The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (IVD) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/RES/40/212 on December 17, 1985. Since that time, on December 5 each year, AARP has proudly taken part in the celebrations.
This year, we have the honor of co-hosting with United Nations Volunteers and the UN Department for Public Information a special event celebrating the leadership and contributions made by our incomparable volunteers. We hope that this is the first of many collaborations that AARP and UNV will enjoy together in the future.
It’s no exaggeration to say that AARP could not do its work without our volunteers.
Our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, believed older Americans had much to contribute – in ability, in experience, and in desire to advance the public good – and likewise, that society had much to gain from its older citizens. Dr. Andrus set one tenet in stone at AARP, and that is our motto: “To serve, not to be served.” She wrote that “good-will service to others is the elixir of life.” She envisioned individuals age 50 and over banding together as a volunteer “army of useful citizens.”
AARP holds Dr. Andrus, and her lessons, close to its heart.
Helping others, being of service, especially to those who have had fewer opportunities or whose circumstances place them in need, is something each of us can do. You don’t have to be rich, or be a celebrity, and you don’t need to be a hero. Each of us has something to contribute. Each of us can ease the way for someone else.
AARP’s volunteer efforts to make a difference have taken many forms over the years. Some of our most successful volunteer activities and programs have included:
- Advocacy and education campaigns supporting critical state and federal legislation;
- AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program, which provides free tax preparation and filing for struggling older Americans;
- Our Driver Safety Program, which focuses on helping older adults refresh their driving skills;
- Our Senior Community Service Employment Program, that helps older adults find jobs; and,
- AARP’s educator activities which help children throughout the country.
We have answered the call when natural disasters have struck. AARP members and employees responded with an extraordinary outpouring of volunteer support and financial contributions for the people affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and in Haiti, during the earthquake of 2010-, AARP Foundation and, HelpAge USA set up AARP Haiti Relief, an online fundraising campaign to help 200,000 elderly earthquake victims. AARP Haiti Relief was the largest – and most successful – AARP online fundraising campaign ever. In just four days, we raised $500,000 from thousands of donors; the Foundation matched this with another $500,000. By mid-February, the campaign total stood at $1.4 million. And, and just last month, for victims, especially vulnerable seniors devastated by Superstorm Sandy – AARP Foundation quickly responded with the creation of a Superstorm Sandy Relief Fund. Through the generous support from our donors and a matching gift from AARP, the Foundation is distributing nearly $1.3 million already raised to select organizations working to support victims and communities impacted by the storm, including organizations dedicated to serving older adults.
The overwhelming support Americans gave after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks had the unintended consequence of leaving many of our local social welfare organizations short of staff. In response, AARP issued a call to all our members, staff, and volunteers to participate in a “National Day of Service” on behalf of their local community organizations. Our “Day of Service” was so widely embraced that it is now an annual event.
Today, more than 9 million AARP members are participating in our work as volunteers, donors, and activists. Last year, our Tax Aide volunteers’ 35,000 of whom 2.5 million tax returns – free of charge -- generating $1.3 billion in refunds for the people they helped.
There’s also our Drive to End Hunger, through which we’ve helped provide 13.4 million meals and raise $16 million for the nearly 9 million seniors who even in this great country are on the edge of hunger each day.
Just about three years ago, we launched a new website: www.createthegood.org -- an online destination where people can connect to opportunities to serve their communities as volunteers.
The “createthegood.org” website features 30 “how-to” guides or “toolkits” for service projects, such as, “Help Military Families” or “Organize a Food Drive,” which can be pursued with your family, friends, neighbors, or a faith group. Other “toolkits” provide the information needed to weatherize the home of a friend or neighbor, to make someone’s home safer or more comfortable, or to prepare a home for a hurricane or other emergency.
Another example is AARP Experience Corps, a national leader in engaging older adult tutors to improve Kindergarten to 3rd grade student literacy. Last fall, Experience Corps became part of the AARP family. Students working with AARP Experience Corps tutors experience more than 60 percent gains in two critical literacy skills -- sounding out new words and reading comprehension -- over similar students not being served by the program.
We are excited about this new dimension to our volunteer work. AARP Experience Corps is currently serving 20,000 students in disadvantaged schools. With the AARP integration, we are on a path to reach 50,000 to 100,000 students in five years, thereby becoming the largest tutoring program in the country for young children.
The glory of volunteering is that the rewards go in two directions. Mounting evidence suggests that volunteering can be a key to better health and happiness, and maybe even an improved economy:
- A Journals of Gerontology study found that older adults who volunteer report higher levels of well-being. The positive effect was reported across the lines of race, gender, and income level.
- A Vanderbilt University study found that volunteer work enhances happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and relief from depression.
- A new study found a strong link between civic engagement, including volunteering, and a lower unemployment rate.
- And research shows that volunteering can reduce mortality rates and help you live longer.
Volunteering is a powerful force! Personal satisfaction, an improved society, preventive medicine, and a boost to the economy, all in one!
I am proud of the efforts of AARP volunteers to help meet the ever-growing needs of our society. I am grateful for the world-wide leadership of the United Nations, and I join the UN in thanking the millions of volunteers around the world who give so much to improve life for others.