Senior citizens in Lewis County and beyond have for decades found second careers for themselves through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties. United Way of Thurston County runs the program, which helps coordinate volunteer opportunities for about 800 senior citizens between the three counties.
About half of those volunteers ages 55 and older serve as elementary school reading buddies, according to Bruce Grant, manager of the tri-county program. Participating schools in Lewis County are located in the Twin Cities, Napavine and Winlock. Other Lewis County agencies benefitting from senior volunteerism include the Lewis County Food Bank Coalition, the Greater Chehalis Food Bank and Reliable Enterprises.
Grant cited studies showing the more active senior citizens remain after retirement, the lower the likelihood they’ll require extensive medical care or housing in long-term facilities such as assisted living or nursing homes. A less measurable but just as important benefit, he added, is that volunteering allows older folks to stay involved in communities in which they’ve lived for many years.
“It gets people out of the house, and it’s of course a benefit for those they’re able to assist,” Grant said. “We track those elementary reading scores every year, and last year we had 94 percent of the kids show an improved reading ability.”
The RSVP program is one of three that fall under the umbrella of the Senior Corps, which operates under the authority of the Corporation for National and Community Service. President Bill Clinton founded the CNCS in 1993 to serve as the federal agency responsible for running AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and a half-dozen other volunteer outreach initiatives.
Members of the Community Service Society of New York started what would become RSVP in 1965; their rapid growth led to an amendment to the federal Older Americans Act in 1969. More than 15 counties in Washington contain at least one RSVP outpost.
Mazie Schlickeiser has volunteered at the Lewis County Food Bank Coalition and other local food banks for more than 15 years. She first got involved with RSVP in 1997 by helping senior citizens do their taxes each spring.
Now called Tax Aid, that particular function has grown enough to spin off the main RSVP initiative, though Schlickeiser stays involved with it through the food banks. She helps register new volunteers there, keeps their hours and sends them to Grant.
“If someone with us has trouble with an injury or needs some help with insurance, I’ve gone and connected them with RSVP for help,” Schlickeiser said. “I’ve done that with two different people at the food bank who have had problems with medical costs.”
Senior citizens who volunteer through RSVP are eligible to receive supplemental liability, medical and dental insurance. They also get to partake in an annual celebration thrown in their honor, though few receive awards. Grant explained that at their age, most of his volunteers don’t need or have any desire for another plaque or certificate.
Persons under 55 years of age are welcome to volunteer, Grant said. They wouldn’t be eligible for all of the supplemental benefits, nor would their hours count for credit towards grant funding available through the CNCS.
For more information about the RSVP program, visit unitedway-thurston.org/rsvp or call 360-943-2773.