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Macomb County

Retired seniors find renewed verve through local volunteerism

RSVP seeking more help from the 55 and older crowd

March 28, 2013

» click to enlarge «
RSVP volunteer Ken Donius tutors a student at Roberts Elementary School in the Utica Community Schools district.

MACOMB COUNTY — As the saying goes, when one door closes, another door opens.

For many, retirement closes the door on the day-to-day grind of work and — for some — stress. For others, it opens the door to a whole new approach to sharing skills and making the community a better place.

While volunteerism isn’t just for the retired, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Macomb, sponsored by Catholic Services of Macomb, is continually looking for retired senior citizens 55 and older who want to contribute to the society by sharing what they do and know best.

For Sterling Heights resident Kathy Calhoun, that would be teaching.

Calhoun retired from teaching in 2009. That same year, she signed up with RSVP and, after an initial orientation with some fellow newbie volunteers, she was delighted to learn of the many open teaching opportunities available.

“I was so happy to hear there was a school near me that was actively recruiting volunteer tutors,” said Calhoun, 63. “Literacy has always been a passion of mine. Everybody has talents of some sort, and it’s really important, I think, for that talent not to go to waste; contribute those talents.”

That’s exactly what the 300 area volunteers have been doing through RSVP since it started in Macomb County 26 years ago.

Volunteer Coordinator Angele Shaw said the program gives local seniors a chance to connect with new friends; it offers new and exciting challenges and opportunities that reignite a spark in their life.

“They’re spending their time making life better by tutoring or mentoring students, supporting local community agencies with your clerical skills and experience, coordinating projects or getting involved in watering and tending a community garden, to name just a few examples,” Shaw said.

Calhoun said hospitals in the area depend on volunteers in order to continue many of their services and the amenities many of us have come to take for granted.

“And our volunteers can help other seniors or their neighbors to continue to live independently with just a little extra help, like an occasional ride to an appointment, or a sometimes just a friendly call or visit to brighten their day,” she said.

RSVP is part of the National Senior Corps under the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Volunteer Services Director Sue Siemaszko said the service RSVP provides to local organizations and agencies through its volunteers is worth $880,000 a year, but for the volunteers, the value of the program is priceless.

“The most touching thing I heard from one of our volunteers was from a woman whose husband had recently passed away,” Siemaszko said. “She said she needed a reason to get up in the morning. We give them that reason to get up in the morning.”

Calhoun agrees.

“I always planned to volunteer when I retired. Traveling and volunteering — I knew those were two things I wanted to focus on,” said Calhoun, whose husband, Dennis, is also an RSVP volunteer. “I like helping other people and I like being useful. I knew when I retired, I would miss the interaction with the children.

“This way, I get to work one-on-one with the children,” she added. “When you have a full class,  it’s hard to get one-on-one with the students, and I remembered how the kids got so excited about the one-on-one stuff.”

Volunteer opportunities aren’t open to just Macomb County seniors, though the service organizations they volunteer for are strictly within the county.

Anne Bartlett, 58, travels from her home in Troy to coordinate educational interviews with local veterans for the Veterans History Project. She and a group of other volunteers seek out veterans and then record on video each speaking of their experiences in past wars. Those tapes are then sent to the Library of Congress for their permanent library.

“These are all senior volunteers who conduct the interviews, record them, and do the technical work with the computers like making the DVDs that are then sent to the Library of Congress,” said Bartlett. “Everyone has a special skill that they are able to utilize.”

Bartlett, who joined RSVP in 2009, said she has always been interested in history and has a degree in archeology, so she was more than anxious to get involved in the veterans project.

“It’s been an eye-opener as to what our veterans have gone through,” she said. “It’s just been really very satisfying to bring these stories to life. And because I do a lot of promotional work and marketing for the project, it’s helped me keep my organizational skills together.”

Siemaszko said most volunteer positions are long-term, but changes can be made in terms of replacements for those seniors who traditionally travel south each winter. She also said volunteer time varies from a couple of hours a week to a couple of hours a month.

“I just feel it’s a good way to give back to the community, and more and more schools and other organizations, their budgets are getting decimated and volunteers are more important than ever,” said Calhoun, who also volunteers at two other places outside of RSVP. “I would have missed giving back a lot. It’s fun stuff with none of the stress.”

For more information or to become a volunteer, call RSVP of Macomb at (586) 756-1430.

About the author

Staff Writer Julie Snyder covers Harrison Township, Mount Clemens, Macomb County, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, and Mount Clemens Community Schools for the Journal. She has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2003, and attended the University of Toledo with degrees in journalism and photography. Julie has received several awards for her work in Arizona and Washington, including AP awards in Arizona for breaking news reporting and feature writing.

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