I have volunteered practically my entire life, but I truly found my calling when I found AARP and its Office of Volunteer Engagement.
- Valda Branison
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Valda Branison, who taught elementary school, has spent a lifetime volunteering to help improve the lives of countless individuals in Philadelphia and other communities across the nation.
“My parents always volunteered in the community with their church work, inviting seniors without families into their home for the holidays, and family members and friends throughout the years have lived with us, and they always knew they had a place to call home,” Valda said. “I guess one could say that volunteering is part of my DNA.”
Born a city girl, Valda actually grew up spending lots of time on a farm, which was also a retreat center focused on enhancing social awareness. “I spent my youth and many summers working and living on Fellowship Farm in Pottstown, Pennsylvania,” she said. “Fellowship Farm is a Retreat Farm whose mission is to nurture in people the vision and skills to foster the ways of peace and understanding in themselves, their homes, their communities, and the world. I actually had a pet donkey named Grace and a pet llama named Elleanor. As an adult, I became the program supervisor, working with other facilitators, facilitating training programs for youth leadership groups, teachers, administrators and family services” she said.
Valda is blessed with a beautiful daughter and wonderful son-in-law. Valda taught elementary school in Camden, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then changed careers to start her own early childhood learning center and worked in Family Counseling where she led family retreats at locations outside the city to immerse families in unique settings and outdoor adventure programs to help parents and children to look at each other in different ways, just like they viewed the different environments where the retreats took place.
Valda then began to focus full-time on Facilitation and Training programs for teachers and school administrators. During this time, Valda became the caregiver for both her father and mother. “Becoming a full-time caregiver was a brand-new learning experience, which later gave me the opportunity to support and work with other caregivers,” Valda said.
But it wasn’t until Valda found the Pennsylvania AARP state office and AARP’s Office of Volunteer Engagement (OVE) that she found her true calling. “AARP changed my life,” she said. “As an AARP volunteer team leader in Philadelphia, I am privileged to work with fabulous volunteers, staff and community partners. We make Philadelphia an even better place to live. As a member of the AARP Office of Volunteer Engagement, I get to travel the nation and work with AARP volunteers and staff on their advocacy and community outreach services. I love AARP. It is a dynamic, vibrant community of people of all ages who are dedicated to helping not just those who are 50 years or older, but everyone in the community, through countless programs focused on health, wealth and social well-being,” she said. “My work with AARP centers on identifying volunteer leaders and cultivating their skills and interests that are needed to further AARP’s agenda and to create age-friendly communities across the nation.”
Valda proudly notes that, “AARP serves to educate and advocate on ways to empower and support the 50-plus community, to choose how they live as they age, and highlight the importance of having fun and learning new things through a concept we refer to as ‘Disrupt Aging’,” she said. “I keep very busy, so I don’t have too much time for hobbies. In fact, I’m working on a new AARP project involving our military veterans, families and caregivers. It’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done,” she said.
While Valda’s schedule does not allow for much downtime, she does enjoy music and watching movies. And she loves Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar.
Valda’s sister, Yvette Mattaway, is joining her on the cruise.