AARP site welcomes  walk-ins

Not everyone invites you to tour the storage area the first time you visit. But for Linedda McIver, director of multicultural outreach at the AARP’s new office at 3502 S. Carrollton Ave., the neatly organized room is a great place to brag about AARP’s programming.

“Tax aid,” she said, pointing to a clear bin full of brochures on the AARP’s popular tax-season service. “Health, housing, transportation, financial security.”

Information on each issue fills a clear, labeled plastic bin and sits neatly on a metal shelf, easily accessible to volunteers or staffers.

The materials are destined for health fairs, neighborhood festivals and other events where AARP meets constituents: anyone 50 and older.

“And then, you have the tchotchkes,” said McIver, tapping bins filled with coveted AARP-branded water bottles, pedometers and wallet-size medication managers.

Not just freebies, such items are given out as a way to “start a conversation,” she said, and educate seniors.

The office is the first of its kind in the nation, a walk-in center in a small strip shopping center (across South Carrollton from Five Happiness, a receptionist told me, very helpfully). AARP moved to the space in September from an upper-floor office on Canal Street.

In surveys, members told the group they’d like to be able to “touch and see” services and talk to people face-to-face in a safe, busy, well-lit area.

“This is part of our community presence,” McIver said. “We decided on a storefront. We were thinking about accessibility. No elevators, just walk on in.”

The center offers the AARP’s popular classes for older drivers, rewarded by many insurance companies with a premium discount. There’s also a service called Benefits Quicklinks, which assists clients in qualifying for help, such as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program.

“A lot of older adults don’t realize they qualify for SNAP,” said Jason Tudor, another outreach director. “The poverty rate among seniors in Louisiana is one of the highest in the country.”

Among Tudor’s other favorite programs is Biking for Boomers, aimed at helping older Americans get back on their bikes for recreation and transportation.

Seniors come to the center for help organizing one of the AARP’s Soul Steppers walking clubs, or information about living in their homes as long as possible. For New Orleanians who are deeply attached to their neighborhoods, keeping their homes safe and accessible as they age is a top issue, McIver said.

Besides the two staffers, the new office has interns from the Tulane School of Public Health, Southern University at New Orleans and Xavier University. In fact, Xavier’s renowned School of Pharmacy — right across a nearby intersection from the office — is assisting with medication-management programs.

“The response has been amazing. This is really AARP’s new venture,” said Denise Bottcher, AARP communications director in Louisiana.

The walk-in center is likely to become a national model, Bottcher added: “We have nearly 480,000 members in Louisiana.” Of those, 74,920 are in Orleans Parish alone.

The office is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. McIver could still use a couple of volunteers to answer the phone. For information on services, volunteering or anything else AARP-related, call (504) 485-2164.

Or, if you prefer, just walk in.

Jean Lafitte tours

We’re lucky to live in Louisiana, where we can escape the mall and other stuffy indoors venues during crisp December weather.

Jean Lafitte National Park, 45 minutes from downtown, has a couple of events lined up that allow us to get away from the holiday crowds.

There’s a guided winter bird walk Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Barataria Preserve, 6588 Barataria Blvd., Marrero. Beginners are welcome; bring binoculars if you have them.

Or, join a ranger for a walk on the longest night of the year: Friday, Dec. 21, the winter solstice. Both events are free, but reservations are required. Call (504) 689-3690 ext. 10.

If you’d rather explore the swamp by daylight, the park also offers guided nature walks Fridays-Sundays at 10 a.m.

Annette Sisco is Community editor. She can be reached at asisco@theadvocate.com or (504) 432-9257.