On the fast track

Alumnus works with seniors on important issues

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On the fast track

Photo by: Peter Frey

It was the last race of the 2012 season. Confetti was streaming through the air. And Jim Dau was standing on the stage in Victory Lane with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and his team.

As director of media relations for the AARP, one of Gordon’s sponsors, Dau (BBA ’97) spends four or five weekends a year next to a track watching the four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion race and spreading the word about the Drive to End Hunger, a national effort led by the AARP Foundation to combat hunger among Americans 50 and over.

Using trivia games, tablet computers and other techniques to engage fans, Dau’s crew illustrates just how many older Americans—9 million—have trouble putting food on the table.

The goal is to raise resources to fix the problem in the short term—to deliver meals to those in need—and in the long term, to nurture solutions to improve access to nutritious meals with local food systems.

“Few people realize how many older Americans struggle with hunger,” Dau says. “So being able to work with Jeff [Gordon] and leveraging his stature to raise awareness and develop solutions is a huge resource in the fight against hunger.”

Dau has also worked with two of his childhood heroes: tennis player Martina Navratilova, AARP’s fitness ambassador, on wellness issues, and Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary, on advocacy matters.

His job isn’t all hanging out with celebrities, that’s just a perk.

He helps with strategic planning for AARP. He’s the on-the-record spokesperson. He does TV interviews, writes press releases and does media training for the organization. And when the Drive to End Hunger trailer catches fire as it did in September, he helps set reporters straight—no, Gordon’s No. 24 car was not on fire two days before the race—and gets back to the important issues, like “helping people in need put food on the table.”

Dau got his unofficial start working with the media at age 11 as a paper delivery boy.

“I fell in love with the news well before then,” he says. “My brother and I would have political debates at the dining room table when I was 8 or 9. I knew that I liked communications. And whether it’s policy, politics or consumer advocacy, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

A business school grad, Dau says he took the scenic route coming back to journalism.

He worked in developing countries for four years, helping to strengthen political parties and civil society groups.

“I realized at some point that I had done more to help countries like the Dominican Republic or Columbia than my own country… so I wanted to come back and shift to domestic policy,” he says.

He has been with the AARP since 2007, spreading the word about healthcare reform, consumer advocacy and financial security. He helps people read their 401k statements and save money for retirement and is working on legislation that would close the coverage gap in Medicare’s prescription drug program.

“I certainly never thought I’d be here at AARP, but here I am putting all the elements together. I always thought I’d be on the other side, be the person with the notepad. But maybe that’s what’s next.”

 

—Sara Freeland is a public relations coordinator in the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs.