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RSVP program connects seniors with volunteer opportunities

Posted at 6:31 PM, Nov 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-13 23:50:13-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — When people reach retirement, they sometimes wonder what they will do with that extra free time. For some, it's the chance to finally donate their time and talents to a good cause.

Bonnie Sitar has been volunteering at Paul's Pantry in Green Bay for 15 years. She hands out the pink tickets that allow people in need to pickup free groceries, so their families don't go hungry.

"I'm so thankful and so grateful and so blessed to be able to do this," said Sitar.

She connected with the pantry through the help of the Volunteer Center of Brown County and their RSVP program. RSVP is an acronym.

"Stands for retired senior volunteer program which is a federally funded program for those who are over 55 and living in Brown County."

The RSVP program works with 34 local agencies and matches seniors with the organizations that best fit their availability, talents and interests.

"We want to know what's driving them. What did they envision themselves doing as a volunteer," said RSVP Director Carol Sheier. "It's an opportunity for them to learn a new skill that they may not have done before."

Once placed with a nonprofit, the seniors are required to serve one hour every six months.

"That's all that we're asking, and most people are doing well over that."

Sheier says the program offers many perks including mileage reimbursement and additional insurance coverage for any injuries that may happen on site or while traveling to and from a volunteer assignment.

"I think that we're trying to take away some of those fears that people may have. 'What if I get hurt? What if I get in an accident?' So, what can this program do kind of bridges that for them."

According to studies that Scheir has read, volunteering also has health benefits.

"You feel less depressed. Less isolated. You are connected to your community, so I think that's really valuable as well."

RSVP volunteer Mary Cherry said, "It's good for me to get out and do this. I feel happier about myself, better about myself, knowing that I'm helping people."

The nonprofits also appreciate the senior volunteers who bring a lifetime of experience to their roles.

"The reliability, dedication and ownership of the position they have here is tops," explained Craig Robbins, Executive Director of Paul's Pantry.

For Sitar, the biggest reward is knowing that she's making a difference by helping struggling families.

"When I talk to them and encourage them that things will get better, you're just in a slump now but it will get better, that makes me feel good."

It's a feeling they may never have experienced if they didn't sign-up to volunteer.

"I'm glad I did it," said Cherry. "I hesitated and talked to a lot of different people, and everybody convinced me to give it a try, and I'm glad I did."

The RSVP program started back in 1977 in Brown County. Today, it has 200 volunteers. Every Spring, the Volunteer Center of Brown County holds a free recognition event to show their appreciation for the RSVP volunteers.