Volunteering with RSVP through Pender Adult Services helps seniors remain active and enrich the lives of others in need.
Most of today’s retirees want to stay active once they settle into their golden years, but they are interested in doing more than gardening or playing golf every day. With years of talent and wisdom to share, and a desire to support their communities, seniors are volunteering to help other seniors as well as children and young adults who are in need.
Celebrating 50 years, Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is one of the nation’s largest volunteer networks for people age 55 and older. Pender Adult Services, Inc. a nonprofit organization, exists to ensure that local seniors are able to live long, rich, satisfying and social lives. They offer a broad range of programs and services, including RSVP, which began locally nine years ago.
Barbara Mullins, RSVP director of Pender County, has been with the program since the beginning. She was hired in November of 2018, just after the grant for the program was submitted. “In nine years, we’ve come a long way,” she says.
“Currently we have 240 volunteers. It sounds like a lot, but the county is so big, and as more referrals come in for the RSVP program, we need more volunteers throughout the county.”
Within the national RSVP program, Pender is one of three organizations that is considered a blended program. That means they offer multiple senior and K-12 programs under the single RSVP umbrella, including Meals on Wheels, Homebound program and
Reading Buddies for children and young adults, to name a few. Because one side of Pender County is rural and the other side touches Wilmington, Mullins says she “has the best of both worlds when it comes to her volunteer pool’s skills and interests.” The current generation of seniors can offer education and career success, leadership skills and wide-ranging experiences, making them invaluable when it comes to providing service to others.
RSVP in Pender County has eight different programs that depend on volunteers. Sometimes volunteers aren’t sure what program they want to sign up for, so Mullins helps match them to a particular area based on their skills and physical agility. They can choose to deliver food to seniors through Meals on Wheels; they can keep seniors company in their homes or take them to appointments or out for ice cream; they can provide respite for full-time caregivers to get out for a few hours a week. There is also the telephone assistance program in which volunteers who might be limited in their agility orinability to drive can easily help by calling and checking in on homebound seniors and spending some time keeping them company over the phone.
The SHIIP program (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) requires some extra training, but it plays an essential role in helping seniors navigate the complexities of Medicare and health insurance information. RSVP partners with the American Cancer Society to drive cancer patients to treatment centers or doctor’s appointments. They also work developmentally challenged young adults in the community, helping them “stretch their horizons.”
“We also have a group of about 20 volunteers that meet twice a month to create handmade cards for our homebound seniors, our clients and other volunteers,” Mullins says. “They make the most beautiful Christmas cards every year.”
Last year volunteers for RSVP in Pender County gave more than 17,000 hours. Volunteers range in ages from 70 to 80 and even in their 90s, and they’re recognized annually with a celebration by Pender Adult Services. “This year, three of our volunteer’s received the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award,” Mullins says.
Upon retiring, many adults focus on travel, taking up a new hobby or even working part-time in order to stay active and decompress after a long career. But thankfully, many eventually turn to volunteering. “I recently met a lady who wanted to volunteer,” Mullins says. “She showed me an RSVP brochure she had collected eight years earlier, before she retired. Three years after she retired, she found the brochure and said that she felt now was the time to volunteer.”
Volunteers are a special group of people who make a commitment based on rewards that are not monetary. While most of her volunteers stay active in the senior center, garden clubs, fitness centers and even the turtle rehab, they make it a priority to fit volunteering into their active lives.
“We don’t reimburse for mileage or expenses; we don’t pay stipends; we can’t even buy our volunteers lunch,” Mullins explains. “They sign up because they want to do it. You can easily see their hearts and know why they volunteer.”
Volunteering doesn’t just benefit those in need. Volunteers themselves gain so much when they give of their time and talents. It provides a connection to community and an opportunity to make new friends; it increases social skills, bolsters self-confidence, provides a sense of purpose, reduces stress and increases happiness. “I think you get back more than you give,” Mullins says. “Our volunteers have beautiful stories to share about the people they help.”
Camaraderie and fellowship are added bonuses of volunteering. “I have a lot of widows who volunteer,” Mullins says. “They’ve met other widows, and non-widows, while volunteering, and they’ve become friends.”
Do you have time to give?
For more information on the RSVP program or Pender Adult Services, Inc. or to become a volunteer, contact Barbara Mullins at (910) 259-9119 x329. Visit their website at penderpas.com/rsvp.html and find them on Facebook at PenderCountyRSVP.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHAY PERNA