On November 11th, veterans, healthcare workers, and their families received something special: handmade thank-you cards sent from total strangers. Crafted using household items, and with messages like “Thank you for your service,” “Stay safe,” and “We appreciate you,” the cards were meant to be a Veterans Day show of gratitude, to spread a bit of joy at the beginning of the holiday season, and to bridge the physical distances required by the COVID-19 response guidelines.
The anonymous card writers were brought together by the AARP’s Create the Good campaign, which focuses on providing resources for people who want to volunteer and do good in their communities.
“Create the Good was established over 10 years ago as a way to get seniors involved in community service and provide them with a resource,” says Carole Ricks, Advisor for Service Engagement at AARP’s Office of Volunteer Engagement. “But volunteer opportunities are open to everyone, not just AARP members.”
Create the Good has also been successful in shifting the organization’s focus from senior-centered activity and outreach to a more intergenerational approach.
“We were looking at how younger people could work with older people, or how families could work together doing something in their community," Carole told Idealist.
When COVID-19 forced volunteers to stay home, Carole and her colleagues started brainstorming ways to keep them active and engaged. This September, Create the Good hosted the Ethel’s Birthday Wish service project in honor of AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus’ birthday. This virtual event brought together volunteers to craft the thank-you cards that were later sent to VA hospitals and Fisher House Foundation centers across the country. The Facebook Live sessions were an opportunity for volunteers to not only connect, interact, and get creative for a good cause, but to embody Dr. Andrus’ guiding principle: to serve, not to be served.
“We were founded on service,” Carole says. “Part of my leading Create the Good is for people to see different ways that they can give back.”
On the same day that the handmade greeting cards were delivered to recipients, Create the Good also launched their Honoring Heroes contest. This initiative encourages entrants to showcase the deeds of a volunteer working with veterans, or a veteran dedicating their time to doing good in the community. The winning submission will receive cash awards from the AARP—one for the featured veteran or volunteer, and a matching donation to a nonprofit of the winner’s choosing. (Have someone you want to nominate—be sure to do so by December 31!)
Create the Good’s plan is to continue to hold live events, brainstorm ideas, and provide volunteers with opportunities to take action through the rest of the year and beyond. “This is something that we want to continue to do,” Carole says. “We already have some other things in the works for 2021.”