ST. PETERSBURG — When Lois Herron witnessed the unveiling of the gazebo built for the elderly at a housing and community center in Miami, she was reminded of how impassioned she was about giving, volunteering and the simple act of paying it forward.
She was ecstatic to know that this gazebo, one of her favorite AARP projects, would serve as a link in connecting the community: a place where birthday parties and celebrations would be held; a place where friends would meet for lunch; or a place to read a book in the shade in the caress of a cool breeze.
Herron lives for moments like these — when she realizes she has done something that positively affects the lives of seniors.
That's why Herron, a St. Petersburg resident and former AARP Florida president, is the 2010 recipient of the AARP Andrus Award for Community Service, the association's most prestigious volunteer award.
"You get your satisfaction from helping other people. That's your reward when you volunteer," said Herron, 76.
The Andrus Award is given to one person in each state who has significantly embellished the lives of adults 50 and older and their communities.
"We could not find anyone more deserving than Lois," said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida's interim state director. "(Community service) is in her DNA. She's done everything you could imagine to help AARP."
Herron's interest in community service was sparked at a young age by her father's compassion. He served on the school board during World War II. He was always helping people, she said.
Herron has done just that almost all her life. Prior to becoming a full-time volunteer, she worked for United Way of Pinellas County for 21 years as vice president of marketing.
She has been officially volunteering for AARP since 1997 and was Florida state president until 2002. She has advocated for seniors for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit and for the strengthening of Social Security. She also helped develop the Florida Chapter Award Recognition Program, which recognizes members and their accomplishments in the community. Herron is also an advocacy trainer where she meets with state and national elected officials at utility rate hearings and is also an instructor for a driver safety course for seniors.
"Sometimes people feel like they're forgotten, but then a group like AARP comes along and says 'No, you're important,' " she said.
That's what Herron wanted to stress during the gazebo unveiling, which was also AARP's 50th Anniversary Celebration.
A group of AARP volunteers and high school students dedicated the gazebo to the residents of Gibson/Stirrup Park Senior Housing and Community Center on Feb. 27, 2008, in Miami. This was part of AARP's partnership with Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit organization that rehabs houses for low-income elderly and disabled homeowners at no cost.
"It warms the heart to see somebody who after retirement is dedicating so much time," Johnson said.
Herron plans to continue volunteering and serving people in need. The Andrus Award only motivates her to work harder, serve more people.
"The world is in need of volunteers. We never have enough, especially in this time," she said. "So many people are in need. I think it's our responsibility to help others."
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8862.