Each year throughout Centre County, thousands of senior citizens spend their retirement giving back to the community.
From religious organizations such as St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to animal shelters including Centre County PAWS, there are almost countless opportunities available in the region for people who are looking to donate their time.
For seniors who are interested in volunteering but not sure what type of work they are best suited for, there is a solution.
Since 1985, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Centre County has been helping adults 55 years and older find meaningful volunteer work that lines up with their skills. Since its inception, RSVP has formed partnerships with hundreds of nonprofit organizations in the county that rely on volunteers.
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RSVP is partnered with 130 agencies, including the Bellefonte FaithCentre, the State Theatre, the YMCA and the Pennsylvania Special Olympics. The volunteer opportunities in the region are diverse and varied, which is why RSVP takes the time to learn about a volunteer’s interests and hobbies before placing him or her with an organization.
Brenda Reeve, the RSVP project director, explained the typical process for signing up volunteers.
“When a new volunteer comes to RSVP, we have them fill out an enrollment form. Then we have the volunteer come into our office to go over the forms with them,” she said. “With this process, we find out what their interests are and try to place them with our partners that fit those interests. This process also lets the volunteer know who RSVP is, and we get to meet the volunteer and see who they are.”
Because volunteers often have multiple areas of interest, Reeve noted that it is not uncommon for them to work with a variety of organizations throughout their time with RSVP.
“We have volunteers that move to different partners and different positions. This is how they find their possible forever spot. RSVP is here to help the volunteer find that special place.”
Occasionally volunteers will work with several agencies at once or take on smaller jobs in addition to their primary work.
“There are some volunteers who like to do what we call special projects, where our partners have a short-term project that they need help with,” Reeve said.
“We then send out the request to the volunteers by email, so the volunteer can pick and choose where they want to help.”
Reeve noted that there are about 850 seniors who volunteer on a regular basis through partnerships with RSVP, although there are about 1,200 people enrolled in the program. RSVP doesn’t reach out to seniors directly, but Reeve explained how they get new people involved each year.
“A lot of our partners and volunteers are our best recruitment tools,” she said. “We don’t have a budget for advertising, so we rely on avenues such as word-of-mouth.”
The Centre County RSVP is just one part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal organization that works with more than 5 million senior citizens across the country. The local RSVP chapter began almost three decades ago with support from the Centre County Board of Commissioners and the Office of Aging. Since that time, it has expanded to include more volunteers and agencies.
“We are looking to embrace the future and expand our volunteer roles with partners like the food banks by helping produce growers glean, weed and deliver food,” said Reeve. “We are also looking forward to serving lunches to the children in the Port Matilda area during the summer and helping with the Special Olympics.” Reeve said that RSVP also is on the lookout for “ecology-minded volunteers to help our Pennsylvania Senior Environmental Corps group with monitoring our local streams.”
Although RSVP is an easy way for seniors to connect with a majority of the non-profit agencies in the county, volunteers don’t necessarily have to go through RSVP to find work. Most of the organizations that partner with RSVP also accept volunteers who contact them directly. There are additional volunteer opportunities available through organizations such as the Centre Region Senior Center and faith-based groups such as Interfaith Human Services.
Reeve reminds new volunteers that “the RSVP staff is here to help you find new challenges and opportunities for you to continue your journey of personal and community commitments.”