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AARP and the U.S. Postal Service: Partners for Citizen Action

Since AARP’s earliest days, when the Association operated out of the living room of one of its officers in Ojai, California, the U.S. Postal Service has played an incalculable role in AARP’s growth and its ability to fight for and equip older Americans to live their best lives.

AARP The Magazine, December 2015
AARP The Magazine, December 2015
AARP The Magazine, December 2015

What Is AARP?

AARP was founded in 1958 by retired California educator Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. Today we remain a non-profit, non-partisan social mission organization, and our membership has grown to nearly 38 million—making us the world’s largest organization representing people age 50-plus and their families.

We help people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthen communities and fight for the issues that matter most to families, such as healthcare, employment, income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse.

We maintain offices in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our board of directors, national officers, and state presidents are all unpaid volunteers, as are our program leaders and legislative advocates.

You don’t have to be a member to benefit from what AARP offers. As Dr. Andrus asserted, “What we do, we do for all.”

Turning 50

Many Americans first interaction with AARP comes through the “AARP letter.” The “letter” has become a rite of passage for Americans turning 50 years old. As that milestone birthday approaches, they wait in anticipation – or in dread – for the arrival of the letter from AARP congratulating them on turning 50 and inviting them to join.

Of course, the AARP letter wouldn’t be possible without the U.S. Postal Service, which has faithfully delivered tens of millions of them for us over the years. Sure, we could call people on the phone or send them an email, but it wouldn’t be the same for them as reaching into their mailboxes and pulling out a personalized invitation. In a fast-moving world filled with televised sound bites, 140-character tweets and texted emoticons, the tangibility of a letter in your mailbox strikes home.

Some have talked about holding the envelope in their hands and feeling profoundly moved by the moment in time, a reminder of five decades having passed as waves of emotions wash over them. Others are, well, less philosophical preferring to toss any reminder of their 50th birthday into the recycling – unless their spouses snatch it first and present it to them as a framed gift, which has also been known to happen. Whatever the reaction, this letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service represents an iconic moment in American pop culture.

Cover of Modern Maturity, 1958
AARP’s magazine, then called Modern Maturity, 1958
AARP’s magazine, then called
Modern Maturity, 1958

Information, Education and Entertainment

While the “letter” may be the best-known collaboration between AARP and the Postal Service, it is far from the only one. People look to AARP as a trusted source of reliable information on a host of issues, from caring for a loved one to planning for retirement, from retrofitting their home for comfort at any age to healthy diet and exercise tips. Over the years, AARP has mailed out millions of letters, booklets and pamphlets to help people and their families meet challenges and enjoy new possibilities as they age.

The USPS first mailed AARP’s magazine, then called Modern Maturity, to members in 1958 – the year our non-partisan, non-profit organization was founded. AARP the Magazine now is the world’s largest circulation magazine and is mailed six times a year to some 38 million members in fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Invariably gracing the cover is a celebrity over the age of 50 – and frequently much older – accompanied by a thoughtful story or interview recounting a life’s worth of successes and challenges. Unlike so many magazines today that report scandal and gossip, AARP the Magazine takes an authentic look at aging and celebrates the value of life experience. Many of our members say it is the AARP benefit they enjoy most and while we also feature a tablet edition, many insist the publication be mailed to their homes so they can read it while holding it their hands and leaf through it again and again.

AARP Bulletin, January 2016
AARP Bulletin, January 2016
AARP Bulletin, January 2016

Ten times a year, AARP also mails to members its newspaper, the AARP Bulletin, a publication featuring practical advice about consumer scams to avoid, important trends affecting people over 50 and tips on saving money or taking care of a loved one. There are news items about events in public policy and shifts in consumer preferences, and reporting about select AARP activities across the country. After every issue, members report clipping articles and sharing them with friends or hanging them on the refrigerator, another piece of tangible value created out of the collaboration between AARP and the U.S. Postal Service.

Using the Strength of Many for Advocacy

AARP strives to help our members understand both simple and complex issues, consider the options, and take the action they feel is appropriate. Millions depend on AARP for unbiased information about issues that concern them, and, AARP depends on the U.S. Postal Service to help deliver it to them.

Although AARP is one of the largest advocacy organizations in the United States, we do not endorse or oppose candidates for public office, nor do we contribute to political campaigns. Our power lies in the collective voice of our members and volunteers who are advocates for Americans 50 and older. To amplify their voices, we maintain paid advocacy staff in each of our State Offices (one in every state), and at our National Office in Washington.

AARP has been successful in our advocacy efforts because we listen to our members and represent their interests. We regularly survey our membership and the general public on a broad range of issues to identify their needs, concerns, and opinions. We also field nearly half a million phone calls annually, as well as thousands of letters in response to our policy positions.

AARP provides this information through local events like candidate forums and town hall meetings, legislative alerts, policy position papers, articles in our publications, media releases and public remarks. Then we encourage people from all walks of life to share their views with us and with their appropriate elected officials.

Many elected officials from both parties rely on this kind of dialogue as the best way to determine the appropriate course of action. Our members and volunteers are our best spokespeople, whether they are sitting in the office of an elected official, attending a local forum or a Capitol Hill event, sending a letter, calling from their home, or standing in the voting booth.

Communicating A New World of Possibilities

Today, AARP and millions of older Americans are challenging outdated ideas of what it means to grow old. We see a whole new realm of possibilities for older Americans as they live longer, more productive lives.  Yes, there are both opportunities and challenges, which is why we work tirelessly to ensure that people understand the trends and issues and ultimately use that knowledge to be active members of their community.

Although personal computers and mobile devices continue to change how people communicate and channels (e.g., email, social media and blogs) for communicating continue to expand, the U.S. Postal Service remains a reliable and invaluable support to AARP and its mission, enabling informed citizen action and community involvement. Both of which would make our Founding Fathers and Dr. Andrus proud.