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We count MAS volunteers as one of the many things to be thankful for this year. On that note, we’d like to highlight one of our outstanding volunteers as she receives a prestigious award honoring her service.

November 20, 2020
by Alicia Crandall

Mary Olson has committed 37 years of her life ensuring that all people interested in navigating the complexities of Social Security have the opportunity to do so in a space that provides up-to-date information, compassion, no judgment, and patience. She exemplifies outstanding service to older adults, their caregivers, and the staff who assist them. Mary wants all people to age with the best possible health and economic security possible.

Early in Mary’s adult life, she taught middle and high school students for 8 years, including a special program for Native Alaskan children. After teaching, she worked 29 years for the Social Security Administration as a Claims Representative and Technical Expert. Her experience led her to join forces with MAS in her retirement. Volunteering with our organization proved to be an excellent fit!

Ms. Olson has volunteered at MAS since 2012. As of October 2020, she has given approximately 1,487 hours of service aiding MAS in our mission of promoting the independence, dignity and health of older adults and those that care for them. As the Social Security Specialist Volunteer at MAS, Mary has served approximately 255 people in one-on-one appointments about Social Security. Her breadth of volunteer work stems far beyond MAS. As an active RSVP Volunteer through Senior Corps, she has also volunteered with Missoula Food Bank & Community Center and The Poverello Center. 

In Feb. 2015 Mary’s MAS volunteer position broadened in scope. She taught her first-ever community Social Security Workshop. Mary writes the curriculum and presents the workshop. This class has already served 295 people in the 31 sessions offered. Mary was clear from the beginning that this workshop would serve no more than 10 people per session. She wanted each participant to have time to get their questions answered and connect with each other. Participants also have the opportunity for a one on one appointment after the workshop. Mary is now one of MAS’s most popular and sought-after workshop presenters! Beginning in September 2020 the workshop started to be offered virtually on Zoom. Mary continues to help people navigate Social Security from the comfort of their home. 

MAS Staff Kate Cotnoir says, “Mary is committed to continually improving the workshop, and puts many hours into keeping up with current policies. She is meticulous and passionate in her advocacy for each individual client.”  Consider the impact Mary had on a local veteran who was on the verge of becoming homeless. Fortunately, Mary worked with him to navigate the maze of forms and qualification criteria to apply for Social Security. When all the forms were completed, he qualified for the Medicare Low Income Subsidy and a no‐cost Medicare prescription drug plan, and on his 65th birthday, he received his first Social Security payment. With added assistance from SNAP, he was able to move into his apartment.  Another MAS Staff in the Call Center shared, “The local SSA office often sends clients to MAS and particularly Mary for assistance with the complex cases. We rely on her vast expertise to assist clients through the process."

Mary’s compassion makes her an effective and memorable teacher. We have all witnessed Mary utilizing her teaching skills combined with SSA expertise to break down a complicated explanation for a client in multiple ways until they understand it. She does it with a smile, with patience, with grace, and genuinely enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to reach others. Her customer service is top-notch! One client found the assistance Mary provided was "life-changing" when she learned that at full retirement age she could continue to work and receive her Social Security benefits, with no limit on the earnings. That can mean a lot to someone struggling to make ends meet. 

We congratulate Mary Olson as she receives this meaningful award, and we remain thankful and appreciative of her service to older adults in our community.