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College of Social Work

Alumna Continues Advocacy Efforts During the Coronavirus

April 10, 2020
Chris Woodley • cwoodley@mailbox.sc.edu

The coronavirus has affected everyone in some way and forced some businesses and organizations to change their normal routines. Alumna Teresa Arnold, MSW ’85, state director for the American Association of Retired Persons South Carolina, maintains the organization’s mission of advocacy and community outreach in different ways during the coronavirus.

“Our responsibilities haven’t changed since we are still advocating for people and their families,” Arnold says. “We are still talking to the governor, legislators and agencies about how we can help South Carolina. We advocated for a moratorium on utility shut offs and evictions by talking with a key legislator. While we were not solely responsible for its approval, but it felt good to be a contributor thanks to our voices.”

Social distancing has prevented AARP SC from hosting in-person events. But they are serving the state by hosting weekly Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Halls. AARP SC had previously used tele-town hall events and with the current crisis, they wanted to invite congressional delegates. The first town hall on March 20 featured Governor Henry McMaster with 13,000 people on the call.

“The town hall was picked up by several TV stations and reported in the newspaper,” Arnold says. “We have a tremendous amount of interest, and our members are always happy when we provide timely information. The governor was pleased because this gave him a non-partisan ‘venue’ and positive environment.”

The second town hall with Congressman James Clyburn and Senator Lindsay Graham reached an even greater audience.

“C-SPAN radio aired the entire program the following day and was broadcast to people outside of South Carolina,” Arnold says. “What struck me the most was the amount of bipartisanship. It was wonderful to hear members from different parties complimenting each other and talking about how they were working together to share information.”

The AARP national office recently launched a directory of mutual aid organizations throughout the country. These informal online groups are aimed at helping people who are at a higher risk of the coronavirus and workers laid off due to the pandemic by providing daily services, such as delivering groceries and medications. In addition to local mutual aid organizations, AARP-SC took the lead on helping others nationwide with the friendly visitors’ program.

“The national office signed up nearly 900 friendly visitors within the first three weeks,” Arnold says. “People who want to receive calls sign up with their phone number and then trained volunteers (friendly visitors) call them to keep them company and find out if they need anything. We have two lead volunteers from South Carolina, one who was part of the planning for this initiative and another who is helping with the volunteers’ orientation.

We have learned that the only way to make a significant difference in communities is through our volunteers because we only have a staff of eight. In a way, the coronavirus has helped us support our volunteers even more. It’s helpful to do something positive, especially during this period of tremendous unknown.”

Even though the coronavirus has separated people, it cannot stop advocacy efforts by Arnold, her staff and volunteers.

“Social workers started out wanting to change circumstances in society to provide more social justice for people,” Arnold says. “It’s always important to remember that we are all advocates and can make positive change for the people around us.”


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