ASHE COUNTY — The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for the community. Among the frustrations heard most from county citizens, it is not just the lack of social interaction, but the loss of opportunities to be of service to others, to contribute to our community.

Alan Briggs is a community volunteer with AARP, and has expressed how powerful a medicine “giving back” can be, not just for the community but for the volunteers themselves. Not only do many of them enjoy a true camaraderie online with our fellow AARP volunteers, they are also supporting each other as they step out of our comfort zones to bring hope an joy during this pandemic.

The AARP-NC Mountain Region has about 60 volunteers at any one time, some very active and others less so. The initiatives they work on empower people to choose how they live as they age. It offers programs on brain health, caregiving, fraud prevention, senior employment, and many other topics of interest to the 50+ population.

In the High Country in 2019, AARP offered hikes, movies, art classes and planned numerous events for 2020 before having to cancel due to the spread of the coronavirus.

“Currently, we have no in-person events or programs, but we’ve been able to move many of them online such as we did with voter education and information programs last fall. It’s been challenging but also fun adjusting to this new virtual reality and we’re all proud of how quickly we’ve adapted,” said Briggs.

AARP continues to offer online classes on Safe Driving, Fraud Protection and HomeFit guidance to make houses age-friendly. In the coming months they will be offering technology assistance programs, speakers series with partners such as High Country Learners, and the Pen Pals program which started last Veteran’s Day. At first they wrote letters to isolated veterans; now they’re also communicating with folks in assisted living communities and with isolated seniors in their home. They also offer opportunities to engage in public policy issues affecting older adults.

Throughout the pandemic, the volunteer group has been a lifeline for many of the community because it provides safe, easy ways to stay busy, avoid isolation, and help others.

“We’re the lucky ones, of course; for many people, loneliness and despair are taking a real toll,” Briggs said. “Volunteering with AARP can offer huge benefits, not just to your community, but to you. Public health experts are saying that now, even though vaccines are in the picture, we still have several months of social isolation ahead. Do yourself a favor and explore volunteering.”

To learn more about volunteer programs contact Rebecca Chaplin at rchaplin@aarp.org.

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