Life After Work

Nov. 13-19, 2003
Life After Work
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program motivates seniors and enhances the community

WANTED: Adults interested in socializing, sharing their time and talents, fulfilling a community need and experiencing a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Benefits include flexible hours, on-the-job training, supplemental insurance and improving the quality of life for countless individuals. Own transportation helpful, but not required.

If the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) were to take out an advertisement, it may look a lot like the one above. But it wouldn’t stop there. If ad space weren’t an issue, it would tell of their need for 250 additional volunteers to join the 560 that are already in place. It would also explain that the work they do is vital, varied and rewarding. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program gives people age 55 and older the opportunity to share their life skills and work experience to help the community. While RSVP is a national service organization, the local chapter is sponsored by Catholic Charities. Last year, the 560 volunteers in the program donated 39,172 hours of service to non-profit agencies in Onondaga County. Their service work included everything from assisting children with reading to working in food pantries, hospitals and nursing homes, from providing transportation to medical appointments for the elderly to giving community presentations on disaster preparedness.

Anne Goulet is the director of RSVP at Onondaga County Catholic Charities. “Currently, our three main focuses are on hunger outreach, literacy and disaster preparedness,” she said. “We are looking for volunteers to go into the Syracuse City Schools and read one-on-one with children who are having difficulty in school. The American Red Cross needs many volunteers to assist with programs which address disaster preparedness –– helping citizens to be prepared in the event of a natural disaster such as the Labor Day storm and ice storms of the past.” Like all programs under RSVP, volunteers will be trained by the agency they choose to work for. For example, the Red Cross will train itsvolunteers in shelter set-up, educating the community on disaster preparedness and food pantry management, to name a few. “When a volunteer finds a cause that appeals to them, they won’t go in cold,” said Goulet. “They will be well trained to fulfill their role.”

RSVP screens the volunteers and matches their interests with the agency’s need. “Many volunteers don’t know what type of work they want to do,” said Goulet. “While many stay in their area of expertise, such as teachers or accountants, others want to try something new.” They certainly have their pick of duties. There are 79 volunteer sites that RSVP serves in Onondaga County. If a city school or the Red Cross doesn’t interest one, a volunteer could choose to work at a library, the Everson Museum of Art, Burnet Park Zoo, Habitat for Humanity, or Ronald McDonald House. The agencies in need of volunteers varies widely. Right now Catholic Charities is recruiting individuals to work at the Salvation Army to answer phones, screen individuals seeking emergency assistance and pack food baskets for clients. They are also looking for volunteers to do clerical, data entry and reception work at Consumer Credit Counseling. William Gutowski retired from the State of New York Worker’s Compensation Board in March 2001 where he worked as a claims supervisor for the state insurance fund. He started his volunteer work through RSVP in February 2003 and finds the work very gratifying. Gutowski delivers meals to shut-ins through the Meals on Wheels Program. “For a while after I retired, I got caught up in part time work. But instead of part time work, I felt I would better be able to give back to my community through volunteer work. That’s when I called Catholic Charities,” said Gutowski.

Gutowski knows that he is performing a vital service to the community and he finds it very satisfying. He also feels the work he has chosen fits his desire to be out and about meeting new people. “There is an element of fun in what I do,” said Gutowski. “The people I serve are very grateful. The smiling faces of those I serve makes me feel good.”

Leslie Goldberg has been a volunteer through RSVP for one year. Goldberg has a master’s degree in reading and worked as a reading teacher at Gillette Road Middle School for several years. After retiring from the school, she went on to a career in sales and then helped run her husband’s legal firm. Goldberg volunteers at Van Duyn School in the City of Syracuse teaching children to read. “I wanted to do volunteer work and this was a natural fit for me,” she said. Goldberg volunteers between six and eight hours per week and would like to increase it to 12 hours per week. “I enjoy doing it. I love teaching on a one-on-one basis because it‘s much easier to interact with the child and you gain a better understanding of them. I can see their improvement right away and know that I’m making an impact.”

Goldberg urges all retired persons or senior citizens to volunteer their time and talent. “The schools are hurting,” she said. “You don’t need to be certified to go in and help out. Don’t be intimidated. Look into doing something like this. There is such a critical need in the schools.” Goldberg knows that there are many senior citizens sitting home bored. She was one of them. “It’s a wonderful way to get up in the morning and motivate yourself,” she said. “It gives you energy.”

The RSVP newsletter stated that studies show that volunteers are more optimistic and have a happier outlook on life, have a heightened sense of well being, an increase in energy and a feeling of being healthy. Volunteers have also experienced decreased feelings of loneliness, depression and helplessness, a sense of connectedness with others, an improvement in insomnia, and a stronger immune system. But most importantly, they are making a positive impact in the lives of others. “I have the opportunity to change a child’s life,” said Goldberg. For more information about RSVP, contact Anne Goulet at (315) 424-1810 or visit the web site at www.seniorcorps.org.

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