BERLIN - The active membership within the Berlin chapter of AARP has dwindled to what many could consider a mere smidgen.
Ann Gamelin, membership officer of the chapter, said her local chapter has about 25 members. The chapter as a result has had a board of only five members instead of the nine it used to have.
“We’re in desperate need of help. We can’t keep doing the jobs,” Gamelin said. “They’re just not coming.”
The local chapter was an active organization that provided seniors an opportunity to give back to the community and have social interaction after being founded in 1982 with about 400 members, Gamelin said.
Membership costs only $10, on top of a membership to the national organization, which normally costs around $16 according to aarp.org/membership.
Benefits to the national organization range from discounts on life/car insurance policies, to working with legislators to keep senior matters on the forefront of their mind, Gamelin said. But now with the low membership, the activities on the local level can’t be done.
The help the local chapter provides to the Town of Berlin food pantry has diminished with the low amount of members to help collect donations, Gamelin said. Same for the collecting of hats, gloves and sweaters that are donated to the Salvation Army, and donations made to the Prudence Crandall Center.
‘Coming apart at the wheels’
A person designated to monitoring activity at the legislature that may affect seniors doesn’t exist, Gamelin said. In addition to her role as membership officer, she’s doing multiple jobs herself, like writing the organization’s newsletter every two years.
“It’s coming apart at the wheels,” said Gamelin.
Bus trips to casinos or popular landmarks in Connecticut have to be done with other chapters in order to justify the cost of renting a bus for the trip, Gamelin said. The senior center also has their own competing bus trips that attract members. Entertainment at meetings, like a jazz band, has become too expensive to schedule, Gamelin said.
“It’s good to get out and be social,” Gamelin said.
The chapter will use its newsletter to advertise what it does and attract membership by leaving it at various locations in town, but nobody actually takes them after maybe picking up them up, Gamelin said.
“It’s just difficult,” Gamelin said.
One reason the membership might have dwindled, Gamelin said, is people aren’t looking to go out as much as they used to, they don’t want to pay for the membership and have to work, Gamelin said. As elders, the members are often grandparents and have to watch their grandkids, she added. One of the more obvious reasons for a decline with a senior population is the death of members, which has happened around nine times this past year, Gamelin said.
The Berlin chapter meets on the third Tuesday every month, except for June and July, at 1:15 p.m. at the Senior Center. The group has been thinking about moving to meeting once every two months because of the low membership and little activity, but that could make it harder to get things done, Gamelin said.
Other chapters faring better
While the decline in membership is happening in Berlin, other local chapters have been able to keep membership above 100, like in Plainville and Southington.
The Plainville chapter has around 230 members and has had over 200 for about the past decade, said Sue DesRochers, president of the chapter. Southington has about 150 members, though it has declined recently, particularly with the winter, said Aline Dynder, president of the Southington chapter.
Both chapters distribute their newsletter throughout town, but have people pick it up. Plainville will also publicize recent donations and events in local media outlets and have members be part of other organizations helps spread the word that the chapter does things.
“I’m out there all the time,” said DesRochers.
Both chapters also have an open invitation for people from the surrounding communities to join their chapter, their respective presidents said, and the Southington chapter will have a membership drive to make sure information on members is accurate and recruit new members, and have staggered terms for board members to get more people involved. Discounts on membership dues are offered to those who bring friends to meeting at the Southington chapter.
“Everyone likes a couple dollars,” said Dynder.
With the larger membership, both chapters will have meetings be productive, entertaining and a social event, and be able to fundraise. They both meet once a month and make it an event with entertainment that includes either a musical performance, a guest speaker, a pot luck meal and social hour for people to catch up.
The guest speakers will include a person who advises how to get affairs in order for family members before they may pass, a local pharmacist to talk about prescriptions or advice on how to exercise and remain healthy, like getting a flu shot. Southington will also have talks on tax fraud, social security phone scams and health topics on monitoring cholesterol.
Both DesRochers and Dynder echoed the same reasons Gamelin said might be causing the low membership in her chapter.
The membership decline is not foreign to the state chapter, said Erica Michalowski, Community Outreach Director at the state level. She’s one of three people that reach out to the over 20 chapters across the state on a monthly basis to touch base, help with recruitment and participation. There were more chapters, Michalowski said. The AAP was founded in 1958, according to facebook.com/pg/AARPCT.
Michalowski will help with programs for each chapter, including driver safety and speaking engagements on the topics the Plainville and Southington chapter already host.
But the state organization will take a more hands off approach when overseeing the local chapters, so that they can uniquely operate with the unique community they are a part of, Michalowski said.
“These are people back to the community,” said Michalowski. “We want them to feel like they are part of the community and help in their own way.”
To learn more, Michalowski said she can be contacted directly at 860-548-3163 or email@example.com.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.