RSVP - Volunteering To Enrich Life

Nov 13, 2014

There are about 33 million retired Americans. While some are in poor health, many of them are in relatively good health, and still very capable of serving their communities.

That’s the idea behind RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program).

“The local chapter of RSVP was started in Poplar Bluff in 1973,” explained Jennifer Rosener, director of the Poplar Bluff program. That was just two years after the program was launched nationally.

“We started as a non-profit organization for volunteers aged 55 and older,” said Rosener. Now it has become one of the largest volunteer organizations locally and nationally.

“Locally we have about 210 volunteers. They help out at our hospital, UCAN, Child Concern, the VA Hospital, Twin Towers, and the North Side Nutritional Center,” said Rosener.

She said the average age of a Poplar Bluff RSVP volunteer is 75 years old. She noted they have more female volunteers than males, and many of the males got started in the organization because of their wives.

“Just because a person is retired from their career does not mean they don’t want to still be active in their community and to feel that they are contributing to the community and making a difference,” explained the director.

RSVP Senior Corp LogoRSVP also has an RSVP Chorus that performs at area nursing homes.

Last Saturday the group hosted its annual Crafts Fair at the Black River Coliseum.

“This is our major fundraiser for the year,” she said. Money is raised through the dollar admission at the door, and the booth fees paid by crafts people and organizations who rent their booth space inside the coliseum.

Rosener said RSVP gets some help from local businesses, and is always open to more local involvement in the organization. “Most of our money comes through federal funds, but every cent we obtain from local businesses and fundraisers is also very important,” she reiterated.

Early in the day Saturday, a light crowd made their way through the BRC showroom looking for unique Christmas gift ideas, despite the chilly temperatures outside. Attendance at the event grew as the day progressed.

When the group first held the crafts shows 15 years ago, they tried to time it for Thanksgiving weekend. Since then, she said, Thanksgiving weekend has turned into a major retail shopping weekend, so they moved the crafts show earlier into the calendar.

Rosener has been director of the program since 2007, and says it has come to occupy a special place in her heart.

“I really like to work with seniors, and I love helping people,” she said.

This year 42 vendors were in place for the crafts show.

“All of the items here are hand-crafted. We feel that is important to keep it as an authentic crafts show of local artists’ work,” said Rosener, adding that other non-profits also use it as a way to do their own fundraising.

Delores West of Poplar Bluff was one of the many RSVP volunteers helping out at the crafts show Saturday. She has been volunteering with RSVP for about ten years.

“I started volunteering after my husband passed away,” she recalled. “At that point, I really needed something to just make me get out of the house.”

So she joined friends that were already involved in the RSVP Chorus visiting and performing at the local nursing homes.  She said the group performs weekly at about eight area nursing homes, picking a different home for the performance each week.

“You can tell the people really appreciate us coming,” she smiled. “Some of them even sing along with us.”

She said she’s no longer sure who is benefitting the most by her volunteering.

“It’s important to feel like you are contributing to your community, no matter what your age,” said West.

A scientific study backs up her hunch that volunteering is good for her. Over the past two decades there has been a growing body of research that indicates volunteering provides health benefits to those who donate their time, as well as the obvious social benefits.

Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression. Volunteering provides participants with increased physical and social activity. Those who donate about 100 hours per year are the most likely to have positive health outcomes.

Rosener agrees volunteerism among seniors will become increasingly important as the Baby Boomers–the generation of 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964–reach their retirement years. Because of the baby boomer phenomena, its estimated volunteers aged 65 and older will likely increase by about 50 percent over the next 13 years.

Rosener said her volunteers donate anywhere from a few hours a month to 40 hours per week.

“The more volunteers we have, the more we can help our community,” concluded Rosener.

Those interested in volunteering or donating resources may contact RSVP for more information at 573-776-7830.