This year, AARP celebrates its 60th birthday and this week — National Volunteers Week — is a good time to look back on our history and recognize the heart of what makes AARP possible: our volunteers.
AARP’s founder Ethel Percy Andrus had a personal motto which is now AARP’s motto: “To serve, not to be served.”
This idea guides everything that we do and what our volunteers do for the community.
Without our volunteers, there is no AARP and there is no AARP Hawai‘i. Our volunteers — about 400 in Hawaii — help people file their taxes for free, organize events like last month’s caregiver conference, conduct driver safety education classes, advocate for positive change at the legislature, raise public awareness about safer streets, give presentations on retirement planning and financial fraud, and assist other community organizations with their projects.
Volunteer Paul Nishimura, 60, who leads our community service team, is typical. He said he volunteers because he enjoys meeting new people, helping others and solving problems.
“It’s kind of selfish, but it makes me feel good to know I’m helping other people,” Nishimura said.
Selfish? Not true, Paul.
Here’s what Andrus said about helping others: “We learn the inner secret of happiness when we learn to direct our inner drives, our interest and our attention to something besides ourselves.”
All volunteers know that helping others is a key to happiness.
Here’s something you may not know: Volunteering is healthy. It keeps you active and social. Studies show that loneliness and social isolation contribute to an early death.
If you have a purpose in life — like volunteering and helping others — you are likely to live seven years longer than those who do not have a sense of purpose. And being alone and isolated is as unhealthy for your as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Another AARP volunteer, Marjorie Tote, 71, said she keeps learning new things and socializes with others as a volunteer. “That’s why I attend all these (volunteer) meetings, just to be able to be with people and help our seniors,” she said.
Helping others is in advocacy volunteer Barbara Service’s blood. She’s a grand-niece of AARP’s founder. She remembers Christmases and holidays at Andrus’ house.
“She was always a real dynamo, ahead of her time (as a woman leader),” the 72-year-old Service said. “We watched her change things and we knew important people (including U.S. presidents) came to her for advice.”
So in the spirit of National Volunteer Week, let me say a big mahalo to all who volunteer and help others — not just our volunteers at AARP, but volunteers everywhere — and leave you with one last quote from Andrus: “Human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself that we truly live.”
Barbara Kim Stanton is the state director for AARP Hawaii, an organization dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live as they age.