Linda Boyd, a Fort Greene resident for the past 25 years, spent much of her time during the COVID-19 pandemic volunteering to talk to strangers, making their days just a bit less lonely. Boyd’s compassion didn’t go unnoticed, as she is now the winner of AARP’s most prestigious volunteer award for community service.
The Andrus Award for Community Service is named after AARP founder, Ethel Percy Andrus and recognizes outstanding individuals, who use their skills and talents to bring happiness to other people’s lives.
Boyd received the award at the virtual AARP New York Volunteer Appreciation Awards and Celebration on Wednesday, Dec. 16. and we spoke to her on Friday.
“I appreciate it tremendously because it makes me feel that someone else appreciates what I’m doing,” Boyd said. “But again, even if I didn’t receive the award, I would continue to do it because I love AARP. I love the people, I love what it stands for.”
Boyd began volunteering after receiving a letter from AARP, a nonprofit organization that serves those over 50 when she turned 50. She went to one of the meetings and was satisfied with what AARP was saying, what they were about, and what they do for the community.
Boyd donates her time to the New York City office three times a week and became a top caller in the Friendly Caller Program, a phone service offered through AARP that helps people going through social isolation and loneliness during the pandemic.
Boyd would make as many as 10-12 calls a day talking to people all over the U.S., listening to their stories.
“Sometimes it can be a blessing, when I get off the phone it’s uplifting or you get off laughing,” she said. “And then there’s a time when you hear sad stories, but you can’t let that affect you when you’re talking to the other individual. So, it makes you take a step back and I look at myself and analyze me and see how blessed I am.”
Boyd began volunteering for AARP in 2016 and is now the Brooklyn lead, helping to support the state office and the 2.6 million AARP members in the city.
“Linda stepped up to make sure other people felt less lonely and isolated at a time when many are struggling emotionally,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “It’s this kind of selflessness that makes us so proud to have her as a member of the AARP family.”
Although Boyd has been an uplifting voice for many people throughout the pandemic, it was a hard adjustment for her. Boyd loves people and feeling connections, which made it hard for her to be away from her daughter, grandkids, and family.
“I would just get up early in the morning and walk to the store and come back,” she said. “I didn’t want to be around a lot of people. I was sort of shutting myself down and I was like ‘wait a minute, what’s going on, this is not me.’ So, I just took a breather and took a step back and I said God give me the strength. That’s when the Friendly Caller Program came up.”
Getting to talk to people helped Boyd just as much as it did other people during these difficult and lonely times, she says. Besides talking to people, Boyd has taken up other hobbies like painting and doing puzzles just to keep herself occupied during the day.
Reggie Nance, the Associate State Director of Multicultural Outreach for AARP, picked Boyd to be the leader of the 40 person volunteer team in Brooklyn. They’ve become good friends since then and have a lot of fun working together.
“Linda literally is my right-hand person,” Nance said. “When I took over the team, we were doing maybe about 10 or 12 events a year. Now three years later, we do over 100 events a year. That’s in part because of Linda’s leadership. I dream it up, Linda makes it happen.”
Boyd’s ability to enhance the lives of AARP members and improve the community where her work was performed, made her the most deserving candidate of this year’s award.