Lately, I’ve been traveling for work more than usual. In my younger days, I fancied myself a bit of a wanderer, and memories from those times have left me with a feeling of nostalgic joy whenever I have the opportunity to hit the road. My thoughts often turn to John Steinbeck and his book “Travels with Charley”, as he zigzagged across the country, breathing-in the American experience with his large, black poodle, Charley. I sometimes wish that I too had a canine sidekick to accompany me on my journeys.
My work is presently centered on foreclosure-prevention. The older adults that AARP Foundation serves, like much of the country, continue to be impacted by the mortgage crisis. And while the tidal wave of foreclosures has begun to abate at a national level, many locales have not yet experienced a reprieve. Unfortunately, for older people, the loss of a home—generally their largest financial asset, but also an emotional foundation—is especially damaging. Starting over is harder as one ages, and older people don’t always have the benefit of time to recover.
My travels take me to parts of the country hit especially hard by the mortgage crisis to coordinate with local organizations that come in contact with vulnerable older adults. These interactions quickly transport me out of the lighter-hearted mindset of “Travels with Charley” to thoughts of Ma and Pa Joad, as they lose their family farm in Steinbeck’s more famous tale, “The Grapes of Wrath”. I spend much time talking to people on the frontlines of foreclosure: the veteran who had just lost his home, trying to figure out where he would spend the night; the affordable housing manager, straining to find places to house those without homes; the legal aid lawyers, stretching themselves but unable to provide services to all those in need.
Despite the struggle and pain, every story contains a whole host of people striving to do good for others. Whether it is librarians and staff at senior centers, directing people in-need to potential resources; reporters, investigating foreclosure-rescue scams; or local government workers, providing aid to an elderly couple who appeared in front of city hall with all their possessions the day they were evicted; there are so many people in this world trying to lift others up.
As for me, I manage a program for AARP Foundation called the Housing Solutions Center. Through it, we provide education and advice to people who are having trouble paying their mortgages. Our services help older people avoid foreclosure and make their homes more affordable. People from all over the country can call our hotline, 1-855-850-2525, for no-cost assistance. Through our services and the collaborations with local business, non-profits and governments that I’m working to establish through my travel and outreach, we provide coordinated help to older adults struggling to keep their homes.
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