BY LESTER STRONG
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?’”
That simple yet powerful statement from Martin Luther King Jr. calls us to action as we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. It reminds us that Martin Luther King Day is a time not only to reflect but also to rededicate ourselves to lifting lives and building stronger communities.
This idea of service — of giving back — is central to AARP. That is why Experience Corps, a program in which volunteers age 55 and older tutor and mentor young children, is now part of AARP.
AARP has been actively involved in promoting the protection of programs that help young people, such as S-CHIP — the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — and Medicaid.
AARP Experience Corps focuses on literacy because we know the critical connection between reading levels and success in life. Today almost 70 percent of our nation’s children reach the fourth grade unable to read at a proficient level and these youngsters are four times more likely to drop out of school.
Whether it is building literacy skills or helping a child in another way, each of us has the power to be a positive presence and make a lasting difference in the life of a youngster facing difficult challenges.
Each of us can connect to a child in need. Each of us can help that child visualize and believe in and strive for a promising future.
Even as we recognize the vital role of government, we know that the bricks and mortar to build communities of opportunity will come not only from compassionate public policy, but from private acts of generosity as well.
As we work to set our youngsters on a path to success, we understand that progress may not come in a straight line. It takes hard work to make change, to defy odds, to truly overcome.
This is the work Dr. King set out before us. It is hard work, but it is extraordinarily satisfying work as well. As a tutor or mentor, you find a priceless reward in the eyes and heart and mind of the child you help.
You also find a profound difference in your own life. We see in AARP Experience Corps how that one-on-one learning connection with a child changes the life of the volunteer as well as the child. Eighty-four percent of AARP Experience Corps volunteers report positive changes in their life such as increased motivation, knowledge, confidence, and skills.
“An individual has not started living,” Dr. King said, “until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concern of all humanity.”
We embrace that broader concern when we reach out to a single child. Older adults have so much to give — experience, skills, patience, persistence, a hopeful outlook, guidance, even love. When we volunteer in our community, we honor the memory of Dr. King and help to build the kind of society he sacrificed so much to create.
This commentary was provided by Lester Strong, vice president of AARP Experience Corps.