Just last year, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the rate of volunteering among older Americans reached a 10-year high. This demographic clearly recognizes the benefits of giving back, as more than 20 million older volunteers gave nearly three billion hours of service in 2013 alone. Today, one out of every three volunteers in America is a person aged 55 or older.
From being foster grandparents to serving over 220 million free meals to children in need, there is no shortage of inspiring older volunteers changing their corners of the world. This comes as no surprise to us at AARP Driver Safety. For the past 30 years, volunteers have been fueling an educational initiative that is tackling one of our country's most significant health and safety issues.
Today, nearly 4,000 volunteers ranging in age from 40 to 99 are instructing and promoting AARP Smart Driver Courses. By doing so, they are helping their peers stay sharp behind the wheel and connected to friends, family and their communities.
One of those extraordinary volunteers is Arizona resident Fenwick "Tom" Burch. Tom spent many years of his professional life with the Arizona Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Division. In this position, Tom was tasked with the difficult charge of taking away older drivers' licenses. As such, he saw firsthand just how vital driving is to a person's independence. He was certain there was a better way to help people stay safe on the roads. So, he began volunteering as an AARP Driver Safety Instructor. Fourteen years later, AARP Driver Safety recognized Tom as its inaugural "Volunteer of the Year."
AARP Driver Safety volunteers have touched countless lives over the decades. Bernard Hopper of Deming, New Mexico is another perfect example. A former helicopter mechanic and crew chief in the U.S. Army, Bernard has been teaching courses for more than 15 years. Last fall, he was responsible for teaching AARP Driver Safety's 15 millionth participant.
There's also Jimmie Osbourne of Coweta County, Georgia, who just finished a 55-year teaching career. Jimmie first served as a New York school teacher, and then, for the past 21 years, as an AARP volunteer instructor. At the age of 90, after making a positive impact on hundreds of lives in her community, she decided it was finally time to retire, again.
AARP Driver Safety's 4,000 volunteers are just a small portion of the millions who are helping their peers across the country. Today's driving experience is constantly evolving, and all Americans -- not simply older drivers -- must keep up with it. Whether helping older drivers navigate the changing roads, or serving meals at a local food kitchen, older volunteers find special ways to stay connected to their communities. In the process, they drive the exact kind of positive social change that benefits us all.