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Retired Seniors Volunteer Program

Unsung Retired Senior Volunteers
are anything but unseen - RSVP

by Carrie Switzer

There’s a low-profile presence in Moab making a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of people under the umbrella of the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, known more commonly as Grand County’s RSVP.
Kate Thompson has nurtured the once-fledgling organization into a full-time service with two Vista Volunteers and 170 community volunteers. While largely made up of senior citizens, volunteers include people of all ages who, like Kate, see overwhelming needs in the homes and lives of many Moab residents.

Susan Baffico and Kate Thompson

RSVP is a nationwide program – one of the oldest volunteer efforts, according to Kate – that matches local problems with older Americans who want to help solve them. RSVP links the skills of volunteers with community needs. The volunteer decides how much time to give, and is offered no stipend for their efforts. But they do receive accident, personal liability and excess automobile insurance, as well as community recognition, Kate says.

“Before I came to work here we always had a part-time coordinator in Moab, “ Kate, who started with the program about five years ago, said. “It’s funded by the Corporation for National Service to recruit and organize senior volunteers to solve critical community problems and needs.”

About five years ago the crux of RSVP was providing transportation to local seniors for medical appointments, hair appointments, shopping and other errands; finding volunteers to work with the then-in-infancy Humane Society; and getting seniors (for the purposes of this program, people age 55 and up) to help with Moab Music Festival Mailings; and reading to elementary school students. The benefits go two ways: seniors are involved in community activities, receive the company and affection of children and animals; and make new friends among their peers and elders. The benefits for those on the receiving end of volunteer services may be more obvious: homebound people get out; children receive the extra help they need in school; and organizations that make up the lifeblood of the community thrive.

The list of volunteer opportunities is substantial, and orientation and training is provided by local non-profits who recruit volunteers. They include bird banding, butterfly collecting, event poster hanging, readers in Grand County schools, Friendly Companions, Bird Club, transportation, Wabi Sabi Thrift Store (proceeds benefit local non-profit organizations), Moab Music Festival, Humane Society, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), Foster Grandparent program, Hospice, TIP (Trauma Intervention Program), and Medicare eligibility assistance.

The Friendly Companions component has blossomed since January under the direction of Vista Volunteer Susan Baffico, who under a one-year grant receives a small stipend for her efforts. The Friendly Companions program links community volunteers with elderly people who live alone and enjoy company. One of the needs might include reading and discussing a newspaper with someone who’s eyesight is failing, or someone who just wants company. Other volunteers share meals with their companion, or go for rides.

Volunteers are asked to spend two hours a week on whatever job they commit to, but Kate says the amount of time varies greatly – in both directions. The consistency of time with the Friendly Comapnions program, however, is a key to the success of that program. Many Friendly Companions visit for far longer stretches and develop family-like relationships with those they choose to help.

The other Vista Volunteer, Marie Andrews, heads up the School Reading Program. Kate says that this has been particularly helpful since the mandate of “No Child Left Behind,” which expects a 90 percent reading rate among the nation’s first graders. Teachers implement the tools and train volunteers. Kids who need a little extra help receive it.

Kate said referrals for those needing services come in various ways, and she said she is acutely aware of a “frightening and overwhelming” need for volunteers. Some of the more elderly senior volunteers have little mobility themselves, but will still sign up to call people “just to make sure they’re doing okay,” Kate said.
“Sometimes people think they are loners, but they’re not,” Susan said of the more shy or independent of those who have needs they’d rather people didn’t know about.

“We see a lot of people form relationships here at the Senior Center during lunches,” Kate adds. “And we have people here who play music every day. John Hagner has put together a band that goes and plays at the hospital once a month. This brings out the musicians and the people they play to.”

It’s because of this dynamic of people helping people in a small community that makes it difficult for Kate to even keep track of the number of people, and hours, that are volunteered every month.

“We have logs, but nobody turns in all the time they put out,” she said.

While there is an active volunteer community in Moab, Kate and Susan said the need is great for more. They encourage people of all ages who have an interest in helping out two hours a week, or one event at a time, to call the RSVP office at 259-1302. Visiting, walking, yard work, transportation, caregiver respite, reading the newspaper; simple acts with the potential to add joy to the day-to-day life of a neighbor.

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