If you are someone who wants to put your time and talent to good use or learn new skills as you reap personal benefits, volunteerism is one step away from achieving those goals.
A good place to start is the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Northern Cook and Northern DuPage Counties. The Arlington Heights based networking program matches people 55 and older with local organizations that work to better the community.
"Studies show volunteering is good for your health, and report that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease," says Linda McLaughlin, RSVP program manager. RSVP volunteers provide disaster services to help communities prepare, respond and recover; educational support for children and tutoring of adults with limited English skills; and services to improve senior's lives.
Volunteering through RSVP is simple and requires just a few minutes of your time on the group's website: www.volunteerinfo.net.
"The website lists over 400 current volunteer opportunities to choose from," says McLaughlin. "Directly from our website an email can be sent to RSVP with the opportunities that are of interest to every volunteer and then a program coordinator will contact the volunteer for additional follow up. "
From there you can tell RSVP what you would like to do, how far you're willing to travel and just what your areas of interest are.
RSVP has been in Illinois since1972. It is one of more than 740 locally sponsored RSVP projects in the nation. Annually 950 to 1,000 volunteers work with more than 130 nonprofit organizations throughout the 45 cities and towns in Northern Cook and Northern DuPage Counties, says McLaughlin.
RSVP is sponsored by HandsOn Suburban Chicago, formerly The Volunteer Center of NW Suburban Chicago.
For the children
SuperSibs! of Palatine is one organization that has put RSVP volunteers to good use.
SuperSibs! was established in 2003 after its founder, Melanie Goldish, battled through pediatric cancer with one of her sons and realized her other "healthy" son found the experience to be an emotional rollercoaster as well, explains Beth Gauthier, program/volunteer coordinator with SuperSibs!
Children are referred to the organization by family members, friends, counselors or medical personnel. SuperSibs! then reaches out by sending direct mail comfort and care packages to the siblings, ages 4 to 18, of those children battling cancer. It also sends out bereavement packages to children who have lost a sibling to the disease.
Items in the comfort and care package include SuperSibs! Personalized Courage Trophies, books and journals, the SibBuzz Newsletters, Sib2Sib letters, and Sweet Dreams Pillowcases and more.
"There was existing support for patients and parents, but nothing for siblings of pediatric patients," notes Gauthier. "SuperSibs! was created to support and honor these survivor siblings whose journey often goes unrecognized to help them face the future with strength, courage and hope."
In addition, the SuperSibs! website www.supersibs.org allows for 24/7 access by siblings, parents and professionals. It provides updated, downloadable activities, information, resources, inspiration and education.
Volunteers are needed to do everything from helping out in the office and assisting with events and fundraisers to assembling the direct mail and comfort packages. Or they can work remotely helping to create quilts or making Smile Cards sent to the children throughout the year to let them know someone is thinking of them.
"Volunteers are the lifeblood of SuperSibs!," says Gauthier. "With just one office and seven employees, we would never be able to serve the 27,000 siblings from across the U.S. and Canada that are currently a part of our program."
Nancy Tirado, 59 of Palatine, is a retired teacher who has been volunteering with SuperSibs! for a few months doing data entry once a week.
"The organization appealed to me because it's attempting to help an underserved group healthy siblings of kids with cancer. I can only imagine that most of the thought and attention of parents goes to the sick child and their healthy siblings may feel helpless and alone."
Tirado says her volunteer hours and schedule are flexible. She also enjoys the refreshing change from the high energy environment she taught in at a junior high.
"The variety of activities available at the SuperSibs! office provides a challenge and a change from what I had done for years," she says.
If you're thinking about volunteering, Tirado says RSVP might be a good fit whether for you personally, or with a group of friends.
"If a person has the time and interest, there's no reason why they can't find an engaging, worthwhile volunteer activity by going to the RSVP website," she says.
For seasoned citizens
Escorted Transportation Service Northwest based in Arlington Heights serves an entirely different population seniors. ETSNW is a volunteer driven program providing rides for seniors to medical and dental appointments, by screened, trained and licensed volunteer drivers, relates Kathy Kasprowicz, executive director of the organization.
"Many frail elderly are no longer able to drive and need escorts to accompany them especially when family lives far away or cannot take time away from their job to drive," says Kasprowicz.
ETSNW was founded in 2006 and, currently, close to 75 volunteer drivers serve more than 600 passengers.
"As of April 2011 over 10,000 round trip rides have been given," says Kasprowicz.
"We now have 16 volunteer support staff members helping out in varying degrees as their time and talent permit."
Volunteers tell Kasprowicz they get so much more than they give. "They get the satisfaction of knowing they make a difference in the life of another person. They feel appreciated and admired for the service they provide. They get the sense of well being one achieves for a job well done. They meet interesting people and have an opportunity to make new friends. Most importantly, they fulfill our purpose to serve one another and especially those less fortunate."
Kasprowicz is emphatic when she says, "we could not exist without volunteers. We are a very small grass roots group with a tiny budget. We want to keep our services affordable for seniors on a fixed income. We ask for a $12 donation for each round trip. The actual cost of a trip is $22.55. So, we write grants, hold fundraisers, an annual appeal, and other events to keep us in the black and on the road."
For more information on ETSNW, visit www.etsnw.org.
Debbie Moloney, 63, suggests looking at volunteering with fresh eyes and a larger perspective.
"Volunteering is not necessarily doing more of what you have done all your life," she says. "It can be about doing some of your secret dreams and aspirations. Volunteering is about increasing the volume of joy in this world. Volunteers make a significant difference in balancing the economy and boosting the morale in others."
The recent retiree decided now was the time to do something fun and supportive.
After some exploring the Elk Grove resident came across RSVP's website.
"I simply entered my choices online and within a day I was contacted by the volunteer service directors," says Moloney. "They were as excited to hear from me as I was from them."
Moloney has been volunteering seven months with ETSNW. "On Thursdays I make phone calls to all the registered clients who have requested a volunteer driver to take them to their medical appointment," she says. "These contacts involve anywhere between 30 to 50 clients per week and a few are weekly requests for dialysis. This is an amazing support to our senior friends and the medical practitioners. Each phone call involves a short friendly chat and a reassuring notice, to the client, of their driver."
Kasprowicz appreciates the work Moloney does with ETSNW and echoes her sentiment regarding volunteerism, adding: "Do it! Give it a try. Keep trying until you find your niche with an organization you like. If you like it, you will recruit your friends. That is what Debbie has done. She is a double blessing."
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