Volunteerism a calling for Southern University retiree
Eileen Kennedy knew she wanted to work to promote the arts in her community and help AARP upon retirement from a 30-plus-year teaching career as a way to stay active.
Soon however, she got the bug for volunteering and now spends her time working with 14 organizations trying to make a difference in her community.
“I knew that I was not going to be at a loss for something to do in retirement,” said Kennedy, 65.
In 2008, Kennedy retired from Southern University, where she worked for more than 30 years teaching freshmen reading and study skills; reading, writing and math in an honors program for ROTC students; and a Graduate Records Examination prep course.
But the Allen Parish native felt there was more she could do, especially with her two music degrees from Southern and LSU, after teaching music for only one semester in Covington several years ago.
“I was unfulfilled as to what I had done with my music degrees, my music experience, my music skills,” said Kennedy, an outstanding pianist. “When I look back, it just seems that there was something else in store for me in life. I don’t know how to explain it.”
So she decided to craft a new score for her next act.
She was already involved in a few organizations while teaching, like the Debose Music Foundation and the Greater Baton Rouge Women’s Council, but one item on her bucket list beckoned.
Her goal was to create the first alumni association in Louisiana for the music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon at her alma mater, Southern, and she succeeded.
After that, she slowly began getting involved with other organizations like Together Baton Rouge, because she liked its mission to bring a supermarket to the Scotlandville neighborhood where she lives, and the Old State Capitol, where she plays piano.
Before she knew it, she was working with 14 organizations, not counting the First Presbyterian Church of Scotlandville, where she plays organ/piano and serves as music director.
She works as an advocate for AARP at the State Capitol, serves food at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s homeless shelter with the sorority sisters in Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Nu Gamma Omega alumni chapter and helps award music scholarships with the Mu Phi Epsilon Foundation, the parent organization of the fraternity’s alumni chapter.
“It is time-consuming,” she said. “You can make time for what you want to do. This kind of schedule is not for everyone. I get back so much more than I put into it. I get a good feeling volunteering.”
She stressed that she, not the organizations, runs her life and some of those organizations meet only once a month or quarterly each year.
Besides the organizations, she volunteers with her local AARP chapter; the Southern Heights property owner’s association; the Exxon Community Dialogue Committee; the Phi Delta Kappa educational fraternity; and the Wesley Foundation Board.
“You work toward positive social change and hope it comes about,” she said. “It doesn’t always come about.”
She said, for most of the groups, she views event calendars ahead of time to see what she can fit into her schedule, while allowing herself time for a life that involves her two sons.
Local civic and AARP leaders thought so much of Kennedy’s selfless efforts that they decided to award her the organization’s highest, most prestigious award for community service — the Andrus Award for Community Service.
It is named in honor of Ethel Percy Andrus, the founder of AARP, said Brenda Hatfield, state president of AARP in Louisiana and part of the committee that chose Kennedy.
The Andrus Award for Community Service recognizes volunteers who work to better the lives of people 50 and older through community service, Denise Bottcher, communications director for AARP Louisiana, said.
“One of the things about her that really impressed us is that she’s truly committed as a worker,” Hatfield said. “She volunteers in 14 organizations and it’s not that she volunteers in word only, she literally works. Everyone who sent in something about her said that she makes a difference, she has great energy, she is very committed to the community and making a difference.”
Kennedy said she was humbled by the honor because she felt there were others in Louisiana doing more than her to help others.
“There is validation for the goodness of ordinary people,” she said. “I emphasized myself as an ordinary individual going around day to day out there, volunteering my skills and my service.”
Kennedy said she recently looked at a list of the organizations she volunteers for, trying to see if there were one or two in which she could lessen her involvement or back out completely.
But she said after reviewing that list, she decided she would continue to help each group in any way she could.
“I looked at all of them, and all of them I enjoy, I enjoy working with them,” Kennedy said. “I have got a number of friends, and I like that.”