BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro AARP Chapter 763 has a unique distinction. It is the only active chapter in Vermont of the organization once known as the American Association of Retired Persons.
The chapter meets on the third Tuesday of each month, except for January and July, at the Brattleboro Senior Center at the Gibson-Aiken Center on Main Street.
For those who think of AARP as a distant organization that sends you a membership card at age 50 and pitches health insurance and discounts for seniors, think of Chapter 763 as AARP’s hometown connection.
“This is the grassroots,” said Jean Garrecht, Chapter 763’s secretary.
It isn’t mentioned in AARP’s mailings, but the organization has local chapters around the country. They are usually guided by AARP policies, but act independently of the national organization.
Garrecht said the chapter does many service projects around Brattleboro.
Chapter members aren’t required to be volunteers, but members often serve as the people behind such popular programs as AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, the Tax-Aide program, driver safety workshops, and general education and advocacy regarding issues that affect older Americans.
Mary Laitres, a past president of Chapter 763, said it was formed in the 1970s and currently has about 100 members. She credits another past president, Shirley Hathaway, for keeping the organization alive in the 2000s by pushing to increase membership.
“It was her love and it was her life,” Laitres said.
Garrecht said they work to come up with interesting topics for each month’s meeting, but the presentations are secondary to what she, Laitres, and chapter member chair Barbara Spencer say is the most important part of the monthly get-togethers — the socializing.
“Not as many people seem to be joining groups as they used to,” Laitres said. “There’s too much email and Facebook and not enough personal interaction.”
”Getting together regularly is good for everyone,” Garrecht said.
The state AARP office has noticed how active the Brattleboro chapter has been, Garrecht said, and has consulted with them to help try to revive a dormant AARP chapter in Burlington.
“Having a local chapter makes AARP real for people, and that’s why the state and national offices are trying to revive them,” she said.