April is National Volunteer Month! Recently we spoke with Kandy Lazell, Program Director for the RSVP program at Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County. The RSVP program helps volunteers find meaning through service throughout the county.
Ahead of the Curve: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it?
Kandy Lazell: The Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP) helps adults aged 55 and older contribute their talents and experience to serve local nonprofits. The program evaluates the skills and interests of each volunteer and matches them with the needs of partner organizations. RSVP has been active in Washtenaw County since 1973. Volunteers have been serving their community by helping frail seniors maintain independence at home, participating in environmental projects, mentoring and tutoring students, recruiting and managing volunteers for events such as natural disasters, and they support veterans and military families.
AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral?
KL: If a citizen is interested in serving their community, they either email or call because they found a posting or they heard about the RSVP program through word of mouth. The senior completes an application and then schedules a discussion so RSVP staff can determine the best match for them using their skills, interests and what they see as fun avenues to give back to society.
If a nonprofit organization has a need for a volunteer, the organization will create a job posting so it’s easier for the RSVP staff to match opportunities to volunteers.
The RSVP staff tracks the hours the volunteers work in the community and those demographics are used to report back to federal and state funders to ensure the viability of the program.
AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with?
KL: There are so many GREAT organizations in Washtenaw County there are too many to list by name, but RSVP seniors volunteer at schools, food pantries, veteran organizations, homeless shelters, senior centers, libraries, national nonprofit and charity organizations, hospitals, and other community organizations. The possibilities are endless for our volunteers to serve the community! It is simply amazing how many great resources are available for those in need and those who choose to volunteer their time to their community.
AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role?
KL: The RSVP program has been around in the US since 1971! 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of this national volunteer program. The Michigan Association of RSVP Directors is an active group. In 1976, federal and state funders started working together to ensure Michigan programs have the support, resources, and training to excel at local, state, and national levels. RSVP plays a part in making decisions, influencing legislation, and steering Michigan RSVP programs in a positive direction for the future. There are approximately 20 regions in the state of Michigan who are members in this dynamic group to assist mature adults with volunteer options.
AOTC: What tips do you have for someone who may be interested in volunteering?
KL: Volunteerism has many benefits; it is a great way to give back to the community while at the same time increases social connectedness and promotes sense of purpose. For those who are struggling with feelings of isolation or loneliness, volunteering can help! By taking a person-centered approach, RSVP connects individuals with new life experiences and opportunities that are aligned with personal goals and past experiences.
AOTC: Is there anything you would like to add?
KL: COVID has created several challenges for everyone but the RSVP volunteers have done their best to continue serving their communities. RSVP volunteers are participating in contactless volunteer opportunities during this time of COVID such as dropping off meals on front porches, calling seniors who live alone and are isolated, sending cards and letters to those in need, tutoring students on-line, and coordinating local efforts to sign up and receive COVID vaccine shots. The program is always looking for innovative ideas to either virtually volunteer or provide contactless support for the partner organizations.
Thank you to Kandy for sharing information about this valuable community program!
You can learn more about the RSVP program by calling them at (734) 71-9781 or visiting their website. Visit the Ahead of the Curve Senior Resource Directory for information about additional volunteer opportunities.