The Ottumwa Courier

February 12, 2014

Still valued

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — This is a different kind of funding story.

For years, reports talked about which helpful program was being shut down due to "the economy." This week, a financial gift means one program will start up again.

"I remember when the RSVP volunteers helped us with office mailings," said Brenda Sieren, executive assistant at Partners in Progress.

That included a newsletter put out by the chamber of commerce.

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP, allowed older residents nationally to stay involved in the community, working as a greeter or courtesy assistant at a hospital, helping kids in after-school activities or performing community service for nonprofit organizations. Designed especially for low-income seniors, the program gave the town where they lived some community service volunteers, as well as providing the retirees with a few dollars and a sense of purpose.

"They [also] helped with the chamber Home and Garden Show, where they helped with admissions," she recalled. "They were a great group of volunteers to work with."

There were plenty of places that enjoyed having the enthusiastic seniors.

Yet, in Wapello County, the United Way's end of the program came to a grinding halt in June, 2012. This summer, after two years, it'll start up again. The United Way of Wapello County received grants of $58,100 to support senior volunteer activities from the Corporation for National and Community Service and $14,544 from the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service.

"We're super excited [to restart] in July 2014," said Ali Wilson, Volunteer Center coordinator at the United Way of Wapello County. "The RSVP grant is an exciting opportunity for the Volunteer Center to engage skilled volunteers who will have a direct impact on the health and stability of our community.”

"The dedication of RSVP volunteers shows that service benefits not only organizations, but those who serve as well,” wrote Wendy Spencer of the federal agency Corporation for National and Community Service. “Our communities need the talents and skills of all Americans as we continue moving this nation forward."

This funding will restore retired volunteers programming for Wapello, Monroe and Jefferson counties, the United Way says. The $72,644 in new funding for RSVP should help: Funding is needed, in part, to reimburse retirees 55 and older for gas used going to and from service positions, and to give them a small stipend to assist them financially.

Wilson said the program will look quite a bit different than the old model. A release from the United Way says federal focus areas for the grant include serving at food banks, maintaining community and neighborhood gardens and assisting with income tax preparation.

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— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark