RSVP Recruits Senior Volunteers

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Donald Lansperry speaking with an Elementary Class at Lulu Ross about disability awareness.

By Kristen Gloss

Volunteering is not something only for students to do for school nor for those still working and offering their expertise; the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program calls upon those with more life experience to share their knowledge and time with the community.

When volunteers Laura and Donald Lansperry moved to Delaware, they joined the RSVP program because it is “an umbrella for a lot of programs and it seemed like a good place to start.”

This national federally funded program recruits volunteers like the Lansperry’s, age 55 and up and matches them based on skills and interest to a specific volunteer program that would fit them best.

“We’re like a matchmaker.  We don’t want someone to be unhappy and not want to volunteer again, so we do the best we can to make a good match,” program manager MaryAnn Hook said. “Sometimes people think they want to work in an area and it doesn’t work out. We can move them elsewhere.”

This force of volunteers is the largest body of senior volunteers. In Sussex county alone, it started out with approximately 25 volunteers in 1973 and has grown to 1400 volunteers.  Each member is matched with a community need in the schools, hospitals, and many other programs. Some volunteers become foster grandparents or senior companions. Others get involved in the Matter of Balance program which helps seniors with the fear of falling.

“I think it’s a wonderful program that has a great effect in hospitals, schools… that otherwise would not be covered,” Laura Lansperry said. “The volunteers have the skill sets to fulfill the needs of the community. When volunteers go to say, the hospital, you don’t have to do nursing, you could go into the  business office.”

Lansperry gives her time to Nimble Fingers, which knits and donates their work, and Read Aloud, as well as a few other programs. Read Aloud allows her to work with preschoolers with special needs. “They started out the year as non-verbal,” Lansperry said. “The teacher got them to a level where they understood that books are the future where they get their education. I loved to see that.”

Donald Lansperry worked with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program having sessions to discuss his disability with kids. He finds it rewarding to have his little brother help him connect with the other children.

“The people who are here and have the time to do it are doing it singularly. My friend just liked to knit hats and didn’t have a distribution center for it. The Nimble Knitters provides a way for her to distribute her hats,” Laura Lansperry said.

The RSVP program has helped Sussex county save over 3 million dollars. “It economically helps agencies, and helps with bridging a gap,” Hook said.

When the downturn in the economy occurred, RSVP had a group of volunteers with expertise in Human Resources who helped people with resume writing and job inquiries for the unemployed. This group is still helping people today.

“We feel volunteerism is extremely important,” said Hook. “‘Use it or lose it’ is my motto. As we age, we don’t use our minds as much as we should. Many volunteers say, ‘I got more out of this than I gave.’ There’s no payment for their services, you just get a good feeling when you’re able to help someone.”

For more information on RSVP and individuals interested in becoming a volunteer themselves should call 302-856-5815 to be interviewed and matched with a program.