Challenges into Opportunities
“All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.”
Attorney General Robert Kennedy spoke these words at a Law Day Address in 1961. At the same time, his brother President John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps. This national service volunteer organization was established to assist poorer developing countries with economic and social development. The president’s call to service signaled a new era of non-military service in this country. The Peace Corps became an organized approach to international service, with volunteers who shared a willingness both to help those in need and to learn from other cultures.
Soon to follow, under the Johnson administration in 1965, was Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), fighting poverty in this country by helping people to help themselves and building a better society at home.
That same year, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) began with the belief that older adults are valuable resources in their communities. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton and Congress passed the National Community Service Act, which was the start of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. RSVP became a program of Senior Corps, which includes the Foster Grandparent Program and Senior Companions. Volunteers age 55 and older provide assistance in a wide variety of volunteer activities, serving each individual community’s needs.
At the July 2018 National Senior Corps Convening held in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital, 850 RSVP, Senior Companion, and Foster Grandparent program directors from around the country met, shared successes, and learned about new possibilities for these valuable programs.
“Senior Corps is America’s best-kept secret,” was the message from the current administration’s newly appointed director of Senior Corps, Deborah Cox-Roush while addressing the volunteer directors at the convention. On the job for just over a year, Cox-Roush admitted that she was unfamiliar with Senior Corps until her appointment and was surprised to learn about these vital programs. Cox-Roush’s new awareness includes seeing service and leadership as an example by older adults for America’s younger citizens.
“It’s all about giving back,” she said, “about doing something to help someone else.”
Currently, over 40 million Americans are 55 and older. That number is growing every day. More seniors than ever before are still working, but there are also more opportunities for community involvement. According to Cox-Roush, America’s older adults “are healthier, more active, and more informed.” She added that a healthier population is a contributing population.
Understanding that retirement can mean a loss of identity, and that volunteering can give older adults a sense of purpose, the Senior Corps directors perform the important work of recruiting and referring potential volunteers to local non-profits. Equally important is recognizing and thanking volunteers for their service.
Each of the 50 states represented at the event has its own unique culture and set of issues. Several of the programs face rural challenges, including transportation, bringing people together, and encouraging volunteers to expand their view of what community needs are.
In total, there are 220,000 Senior Corps volunteers in the United States. In Humboldt County/Del Norte, there are currently 270 active RSVP members who provide a variety of services, including providing rides for seniors to medical appointments, mentoring/tutoring youth, health-related counseling, building trails, removing trash and invasive species, fostering inter-generational cultural awareness, helping to grow and distribute food for those in need, and promoting recycling and creative reuse.
For more information about the Humboldt/Del Norte RSVP, call 630-5081 and help turn our challenges into opportunities.
by Maureen McGarry