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RSVP Helps Seniors Give Back to the Community

by and on May 22, 2014 9:15 AM

Retirement or a reduction in work hours can be a welcomed time to relax.

Eventually, however, it can also make some people go stir-crazy.

That's where the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) comes in. Since its inception 1985, it has grown to be one of the largest volunteer networks for people 55 and older in the United States.

For seniors and retirees in Centre County, it can mean giving back to your community while doing something you love or something entirely new to you.

An entity of the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Centre County Board of Commissioners through the Office of Aging, RSVP connects more than 850 volunteers with about 115 non-profit agencies in Centre County.

RSVP is a free organization to join. Project Director Brenda Reeve and Program Assistant Andrea Puzycki encourage both those who know what type of volunteering they want to do and those who are clueless. During an informal interview, which typically takes place in their offices located in the Willowbank Building on Holmes Street in Bellefonte, Reeve and Puzycki will ask potential volunteers to fill out an enrollment form. This is a way for them to check off or list things that pertain to their interests, experience and skills.

"This is how we get to know who you are," Reeve says. "We can't guarantee that we'll find that niche, but we work very hard to."

"It's nice because somebody may want to play the piano one day a week and we can send them to Centre Crest to play for a service," Puzycki says. "Some people need a place to go every day and we find a completely different set up for them."

The volunteer opportunities are vast and range from renovating homes and becoming a natural disaster to assisting local food banks and helping with office work. Volunteers can put in as few or as many hours that they are available.

"A lot of our partners, with the way their budget and the economy is going," Reeve says, "really could use a lot of help."

RSVP also has a number of volunteer opportunities that only take place for a short period of time called special projects. This includes Trash to Treasure at Penn State at the end of May, Toys for Tots around the holidays and shot clinics during flu season.

During tax season, RSVP also coordinates the free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for Centre County residents with low-to-moderate income. Interested volunteers are trained in IRS tax rules and regulations in January, and then begin taking appointments in February, Puzycki says.

In 2014, RSVP had six volunteers who took appointments and 20 volunteers who prepared the returns.

"We completed over 1,200 returns of one kind or another over the tax season," she sayd. VITA volunteers take appointments in Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Philipsburg and State College.

One of the long-standing programs through RSVP, now in its 12th year, is the Pen Pal Program. From October to April, about 400 volunteers exchange letters with 800 elementary students in the Bald Eagle Area School District.

The goals of this program are to "provide a mentor opportunity for elementary-age students while enhancing reading, writing and social skills" and "positively influence the percentage of students who go on to post-secondary school and reduce the percentage of students who drop out of school," according to the Pen Pal Program recruitment sheet.

In addition to sending letters with students, volunteers have an annual meet and greet with the student or students they write to.

There is an annual luncheon to celebrate the service of RSVP volunteers. This year's luncheon will take place in October and volunteers who have 12 hours of service for the year is eligible to attend.

"It's a way for us to say thank you," Reeve says. "We get to serve them for serving the community." At last year's luncheon, there were 37 recipients of an award for 500 or more hours of service, which is sponsored by the Centre County Board of Commissioners, and 5 recipients of the 25-years of service pin.

Other perks for being a volunteer include a volunteer discount card to participating stores and restaurants in Centre County. All RSVP volunteers are also covered under the Volunteer Insurance Service Insurance Program as a supplemental insurance while on duty.

"We're available to the whole community," Puzycki says. "Even if they're under 55. We don't turn anybody away." Although volunteers under 55 will not technically be a part of RSVP, Puzycki and Reeve will still help them find a place that might be a good fit for them.

For more information about RSVP or if you're interested in becoming a volunteers, call (814) 355-6816 or visit www.centrecountypa.gov.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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