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On the Move

On the Move: Volunteering is as good for you as it is for those you help

For most of us, driving a car means freedom – freedom to go anywhere we want or need to, at any time that suits us. It means freedom to shop for food or clothes or gifts, to stop at the pharmacy, visit a friend or family member, go to a movie, get a haircut. As we age, we make many sacrifices. One of them is giving up the car keys, accepting the fact that we’re through driving. We want to stay in our own homes, but how can we accomplish those necessary errands? There are ways. Sometimes a friend offers to help; sometimes a family member is available; there’s the senior transit bus; and then there are the RSVP Caregivers volunteer drivers.

RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) is a nationwide effort. Established in 1971, it is one of the largest senior volunteer organizations in our country. In our area, which includes Merrimack, Rockingham, Strafford and Belknap counties, RSVP is sponsored by the Friends Program, a nonprofit agency that recruits, trains and manages volunteers to meet community needs. There are 130 nonprofits, hospitals, libraries, senior centers, schools, nursing homes, museums, historic sites, health care and environmental agencies and disaster relief agencies that welcome help from hundreds of RSVP volunteers. With very little public transportation in our area, volunteer drivers are a necessity and a blessing.

“More drivers are always needed,” said Donna Fanny, program coordinator for RSVP, the biggest volunteer search and placement program in New Hampshire.

Many people want to volunteer but don’t know how. Many organizations need help. RSVP helps both. Fanny has a busy schedule, recruiting and placing volunteers.

“Recruiting,” she told me, “is sometimes the result of word of mouth, and we spread the word speaking at senior centers, church groups, schools and libraries.”

I asked if she was getting volunteers from the now retiring boomers.

“A few,” Fanny said, “but I imagine them needing time to get into retirement mode and finding time to help.”

RSVP Caregivers can be drivers, visit shut-ins, run errands, read and write letters, or do light household chores or seasonal yard work. They help people remain in their homes, get to medical appointments, feel independent and maintain their dignity. Just a little assistance makes a huge difference to people with physical or financial limitations. RSVP volunteers and care receivers are covered by supplemental accident and liability insurance while on the job and going to and from jobs.

New volunteers are asked to fill out a survey indicating their interests and experience, their choice of volunteer location and how many hours a week they are able to give. There are 20 locations for the Bone Builders program for which RSVP trains volunteer leaders. Bone Builders is a strength training and balance exercise program to prevent and reverse osteoporosis, improve muscle strength, increase bone density and balance and enhance energy and well-being. The exercises also protect against fractures and help prevent falls.

Volunteers also can be put on an on call list. They can read to children, tutor them, help them become pen pals, help with school work or just help busy teachers get boots and mittens on and off. Volunteers help limited adults with basic needs or just visit with them. They teach English as a second language, help with blood drives, sort clothing, assist at food pantries, find shelter for the homeless and help the appropriate agencies with preparedness for and recovery from natural disasters.

RSVP recognizes and respects that older people have a wealth of talent and experience to share, and their input of new ideas to serve the needs of our communities is welcomed. Whatever your talent or experience, RSVP needs you. Volunteers are 55 and older. Volunteering has been shown to benefit the giver as much as the receiver. Volunteers never find time to be bored, learn lots, discover skills they didn’t know they had, share the skills and talents they do have and make new friends among the people they work with and those they help.

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