April 27, 2012

RSVP volunteer program helps people change lives

Jim Fillenwarth volunteers every Tuesday morning at the St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry in Indianapolis, helping people in need register for the food assistance program. (Submitted photo)

Jim Fillenwarth volunteers every Tuesday morning at the St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry in Indianapolis, helping people in need register for the food assistance program. (Submitted photo) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

Like many baby boomers, Monica Rinas sometimes struggles to balance all the demands and relationships in her life.

She tries to focus on her husband of 30 years, David. She also seeks to carve out time to enjoy her three grown children and her two grandchildren.

And the 59-year-old Catholic woman also tries as much as she can to help be a caregiver for her mother, who lives nearly 500 miles away in Kansas City.

At the same time, Rinas likes to volunteer as a way of thanking God for her blessings and honoring the giving attitude of her late father.

She has helped feed the homeless. She has also volunteered at a hospice, comforting relatives as their loved ones neared death. Yet, when she needed the flexibility to travel to Kansas City to be there for her mother, she knew she had to cut back or change her volunteer efforts.

That’s when she became aware of a program sponsored by Catholic Charities Indianapolis that serves as a clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities for people 55 and older—a program called RSVP of Central Indiana that let her continue to change lives.

“What I like about RSVP is that they help you find a volunteer program that is suited just for you,” Rinas says. “They work with your interests, your flexibility and your time, and they do all the groundwork.”

For the past two and a half years, she has volunteered to lead classes at Girls Inc., a national, non-profit organization that works to develop girls’ self-esteem and helps them to pursue their dreams as they learn from other women and girls.

“These girls are so smart, and they’re eager to share their feelings,” says Rinas, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “They’re always ready for a hug, for someone to listen to them, lift them up, and give them some goals and positive reinforcement. It’s important for me to stand up before them as a mother and a grandmother to tell them that I still make mistakes. But that’s how you grow. That’s how you develop compassion and courage.”

The desire to help people 55 and older make a difference in the lives of others is at the heart of RSVP, says Monica Woodsworth, who coordinates the program that involves more than 200 volunteers.

“There’s current research that shows that volunteering is not only good for your physical well-being, it’s also good for your mental and emotional well-being,” Woodsworth says.

“If you have been a career person and have stopped working, you may have lost your main identity in life—and the day-to-day contacts that filled your life. With RSVP, you’re helping people, and you’re meeting new people and expanding your social group.”

Wanting to foster those social connections, RSVP schedules luncheons and education classes so volunteers can interact with each other.

The program also recognizes that people 55 and older often have multiple roles in their lives, including caring for grandchildren, being a caregiver to their parents and having second jobs. So RSVP strives to offer volunteer opportunities that match a need for flexibility in life, Woodsworth says.

That flexibility and the variety of volunteer opportunities appeal to Jim Fillenwarth.

He volunteers every Tuesday morning at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry in Indianapolis. He supervised a service trip of 40 youths from the Future Farmers of America organization when their national organization held its convention in Indianapolis in 2011.

He’s also looking forward in May to judging the projects of seniors at Greenwood High School. And he just finished a few months of providing free assistance to elderly people who needed help in preparing their tax returns.

“I like the variety of people,” says Fillenwarth, a member of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis. “When we help people with their taxes, they ask, ‘What can we do for you?’ They offer monetary tips, cookies or a can of pop. We’re not allowed to take anything but a thank you. They always say, ‘We’ll pray for you.’ I say, ‘We can’t stop you from doing that. I’ll take that.’ ”

Those interactions add joy to his life.

“It’s what keeps me going,” says Fillenwarth, who is 80 and a

great-grandfather. “My satisfaction is a job well done, that I did my best today. About six years ago, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. One day you feel fine. Other days, you just hurt. But it doesn’t stop me. I look at it that I’m helping God’s creatures. I figure he would like me to help people so I do. It keeps me out of mischief.”

Delores Townsend shares that attitude. 

At first, she became aware of RSVP through a volunteer program that helped her.

“I called in to get a ‘home companion’—a person who calls you at home, talks about current events and listens to you,” Townsend recalls. “It lifts you up to have someone like that. She called me about twice a week. We got to be good friends, and we still communicate. It’s just the thoughtfulness. Then I decided I could do more.”

She volunteers to help take phone calls from people who want to donate beds, washing machines and other items to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Indianapolis. She takes the information and schedules pick-up times.

Wanting to do more, she also serves as a receptionist at the St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry. Even a recent knee replacement won’t slow down her volunteering efforts, she says.

“The main thing I like is giving back, helping,” says Townsend, 72. “Everything they do at St. Vincent de Paul is to help people. That’s a blessing. I’m helping, too. It’s a fantastic feeling.”

(For more information about RSVP of Central Indiana, call 317-261-3378 or 800-382-9836, ext. 3378.)

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