By Laquanna Tyler
While volunteering is often thought of as giving without the expectation of receiving, there are actual benefits to be had by those who give freely of their time and efforts. The study entitled Doing Good is Good for You, released earlier this year by United Health Group, highlights the health benefits of volunteering.
The study found that many volunteers felt an improvement in both their mental and physical health. They also said that they gained a sense of purpose through their work. These findings may be especially appealing to volunteers of an older age group or retirees seeking a way to contribute to their communities and stay active after leaving the workforce.
“It’s a benefit to me and my own self-worth, to know that I am still needed and wanted,” says Steven Yoho, who volunteers with the Raleigh Police Department. Yoho is a former volunteer firefighter and current member of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
RSVP is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service and operates in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
One of many federally sponsored Corporation programs to increase service, RSVP’s purpose is to recruit and develop senior and retired citizens ages 55 and older who want to volunteer. “The great thing about our program is that we consult with members so that we can tap into their interests and talents,” says Jeanette Golden, a senior staff support specialist with the Volunteer Human Services Division of the City of Raleigh.
According to Golden, some of the program’s best recruiters are the current volunteers who are knowledgeable about the organization’s mission and program benefits and are comfortable approaching potential volunteers. Along with volunteering experience, RSVP’s program benefits include training, secondary accident and liability insurance and mileage reimbursement.
Steven Yoho learned about the program while attending a Citizens Advisory Council meeting and was given a brochure by a member of the Raleigh Police Department. Since becoming a member of RSVP, Yoho has volunteered with the police department for more than four years and is the co-coordinator of volunteers with the department.
Like many seniors and retirees, Yoho has some physical limitations, but he refuses to let them stop him from continuing his service. “I want to put a good foot forward for the department and RSVP. It’s very satisfying,” he says.
According to Golden, Yoho’s dedication and passion is a trait that all RSVP volunteers share. The passion of these dedicated volunteers is a great advantage for the nonprofit organizations and government-operated agencies eligible to employ their service.
Eligible organizations and agencies must draw up a memorandum of understanding with the City of Raleigh in order to work with RSVP.
“We do go out and look for organizations that are in line with our focus areas,” Jeanette Golden explains, adding, “some organizations are specifically looking for older retired adults because of their flexibility during the week.” Besides giving members the opportunity to employ skills they already possess, RSVP also looks for opportunities and organizations that can help members foster new skills.
From a financial perspective, she believes that having volunteers with years of experience and much time to spare can help an organization’s funds go further.
Golden describes the benefits that RSVP volunteers provide organizations as priceless. Volunteers, like Yoho, who have served in similar fields of employment to the organizations in which they volunteer bring with them valuable skills and a wealth of practical knowledge.
Yoho observes that the volunteers he works with come from many different backgrounds and bring different types of experience. While he does things like help with DWI checkpoints, assist stranded motorists and conduct safety surveys on intersections in his neighborhood, other senior volunteers do data entry at the Raleigh Intelligence Agency.
Yoho says he couldn’t have picked a better organization to volunteer for, and he wants the same experience for others like him: “There are many seniors that are capable of doing, because they still have a strong mind and spirit. They just need to know that their help is wanted.”
Sarahgale Holbrook, site manager for Meals on Wheels of Garner, explains that, as one of only three paid staff, she finds the help of the volunteers to be invaluable. “One volunteer takes over for me when I’m out. When I have to take the day off, I don’t have to worry about anything,” she says. She adds that another volunteer takes care of the majority of the paperwork.
Volunteering can give seniors and retirees a new sense of purpose and a feeling of improved wellbeing, and organizations can gain dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers.