RSVP helps senior volunteers serve the community

Diane Giacobbi is intent on helping seniors through her volunteer work at the Onondaga chapter of AARP in Syracuse. For the last seven years, she has taken phone calls,  advising seniors about such topics as defensive driving courses, tax preparation and insurance. “I enjoy volunteering,” Giacobbi said. “I find it very rewarding to help senior citizens.”  

   Giacobbi, with a background in payroll and human resources, was paired with AARP through her involvement with Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a volunteer referral agency for people who are 55 and older. According to RSVP Director Donna Nash, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service funds the program. The Syracuse chapter is sponsored by Catholic Charities Elderly Services and has been operating for the last 19 years. Presently, 450 volunteers are enrolled in the program, which serves 65 organizations in the community.

   The priority categories in which volunteer help is needed include health care, aging, adult literacy, youth and mentoring, environment, arts and culture, services for families in need and disaster preparedness, according to a listing provided by Nash.

   Nash said the program is successful because RSVP matches the volunteers’ skills, talents and interests to the needs of the community, and the senior volunteers also benefit.

   Nash explained the importance of offering RSVP to seniors. “When they [seniors] think about themselves as a volunteer, they’re not quite sure what they have to offer and they hesitate to volunteer,” she said. “This program helps them figure out where they would best fit in.”

   Nash described the process she uses when matching a volunteer to an organization that is seeking help. She keeps a file of job descriptions that have been sent to her from the partner organizations. Nash meets with the prospective volunteer to discuss his or her skills and experience. After determining what a volunteer’s talents are, Nash asks the senior to read the job description that she feels they are suited for. Nash contacts the organization and the prospective volunteer interviews with a representative of that site to see if the pairing is a good match.

   On June 11, three people who volunteer through the RSVP program gathered after a seniors’ luncheon at the Salina Civic Center in Mattydale, the home of the RSVP office.

   Lou Valentino, a parishioner of St. Margaret’s in Mattydale, has helped to serve the food at the luncheon three days a week for the past 10 years. “I like doing it because I like helping people who don’t have much money [the lunch costs very little],” replied Valentino, when asked why he had volunteered so diligently.

   Betty and Bill Mecca, also in attendance, discussed their volunteer activities. Every Tuesday during the winter months, the couple teaches an acrylics painting class. “I miss doing it right now,” commented Bill. As a sign painter by trade, the 94-year-old is using his artistic talent to teach others. “I want to volunteer,” he said. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of it and it makes me feel good.”

  Bill and Betty are members of St. Margaret’s Parish, where they have both volunteered. “I like helping people,” commented Betty. “When they appreciate it, that’s even better.” She added that she likes to see the people’s enjoyment during the art class that she teaches.

   Betty and her husband talked enthusiastically about their involvement in RSVP’s Pen Pal program. They’ve been involved in it for the last four years. The couple, along with 23 other volunteers, exchanges letters with two third grade classes at Dr. King Elementary School in Syracuse. At the end of the school year, the seniors and students meet at a get-together in the school library. “They [the students] are adorable,” remarked Betty. “They show me their favorite books.” The Meccas remarked that they had learned a lot about the students’ cultures though their involvement in the Pen Pal program.

   Nash is very pleased with the couple’s desire to get involved in the community. “They are willing to do anything,” she commented.

   Nash mentioned that through the RSVP program, every volunteer is covered by supplemental auto and on-the-job liability insurance. Also, a recognition event is held every year for those who have served at least 30 hours. In addition, a newsletter listing volunteer opportunities, specific volunteer station requests and volunteer narratives is published two times a year.

   Nash explained why she thinks the RSVP program is so successful. “There’s something about an older volunteer who has established a good work ethic,” she said. “They don’t shirk responsibility; they have the time, skills and drive. To volunteer gives them purpose.”
   To volunteer or for more information about the RSVP program, call (315) 424-1810, ext. 12, or email

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