December 7, 2018

Placing, helping service-seeking seniors makes RSVP a ‘win-win’

Sally Dreyer, a volunteer through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, checks a client in at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Indianapolis on Nov. 6. (Still shot from Catholic News Service video by Katie Rutter)

Sally Dreyer, a volunteer through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, checks a client in at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Indianapolis on Nov. 6. (Still shot from Catholic News Service video by Katie Rutter)

By Natalie Hoefer

Sally Dreyer recalls her desire to volunteer after retiring four years ago at age 60.

“I was looking for something to do in the community,” she says.

Danny Wyrick says he “always wanted to give back to people—I just couldn’t figure out how because I’ve worked two jobs all my life.”

So when he retired in 2015, Wyrick was ready to volunteer.

Dreyer and Wyrick both turned to the same source to find volunteer opportunities: the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).

‘An hour is just as significant as more’

RSVP is a national volunteer network for those age 55 and older. It is one of three programs offered through Senior Corps, which is overseen by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) agency.

Monica Woodsworth, director of RSVP of Central Indiana, describes the program as “a clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities.”

Her branch, which is sponsored by Catholic Charities Indianapolis, covers Hamilton, Hendricks, Johnson and Marion counties. Numerous branches cover many other counties in central and southern Indiana. (See related article)

Although the central Indiana branch is housed at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis, says Woodsworth, “You don’t have to be Catholic. RSVP is non‑denominational, so anyone over 55 can join”—good news for Wyrick, 69, who is not Catholic.

“Anyone” also means no upper age limit and includes those with limitations. For instance, if someone lacks a car, Woodsworth says her staff researches public transportation, volunteer opportunities close to the person’s home, and in-home options using the phone or computer.

“Anyone” also includes those with only a limited time to serve.

“We tell the volunteers, ‘If you only have an hour once a week or every two weeks, that hour is just as significant to the person you’re helping as if you were able to give more,’ ” she says.

‘It’s nice to have a skill that’s needed’

Dreyer appreciates the program’s flexibility.

“One big concern I had going into this was what would happen if I needed to baby-sit my grandkids,” says Dreyer, 64, who is a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis with her husband Steve.

“They told me not to worry about it, that the organizations are flexible. They understand you’re retired and have family commitments.”

Dreyer moved forward with the application process, which starts with a background check and references, since volunteers “could work with our most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly and children,” says Woodsworth.

From there, Dreyer completed an inventory of her skills and interests. Then an RSVP staff member looked for a good match between her inventory and the volunteer options available, ranging from one time to short term to long term, from Catholic Charities to food pantries to community service, and a variety in between.

Dreyer knew she wanted an ongoing, consistent volunteer opportunity. She was matched with a four-hour-a-week position checking clients in at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Indianapolis.

The role was also suggested because Dreyer listed on her inventory having a “working but not fluent” ability to speak Spanish.

“I didn’t think my Spanish would help,” she says. “But I get to use my Spanish every time I’m there. I love that I get to practice it, and it’s nice to have a skill that’s needed.”

Had Dreyer become unsatisfied with the opportunity, RSVP would be there to help.

“We follow up with both the organization and the volunteer to make sure it’s working,” Woodsworth explains.

If for some reason the volunteer is not happy, RSVP staff help them identify the problem so it can be avoided in the future.

“Then we work with them [on finding something else],” says Woodsworth. “Just because one opportunity didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean other opportunities aren’t still there.”

But no such efforts were needed for Dreyer. After four years, she continues to enjoy her role at the food pantry.

‘There’s no pressure’

Wyrick was also matched with a position at a food pantry. For two years, he volunteered monthly at Gleaner’s Food Bank.

“I hope to get back to it in the spring,” he says, noting he had to take a break from volunteering to have two knee surgeries. “I really have fun at Gleaners. I like talking to the clients. They’re really friendly.”

By volunteering once a month, Wyrick is available for other service opportunities that come along through RSVP. He’s participated in several one-time volunteer jobs at other food pantries, sorted food for the United States Post Office’s annual food drive, and even cleaned out a pantry‑turned-closet at a school.

“It’s nice to be able to do those one-time jobs,” he says. “Sometimes Monica will contact me about something specific and say, ‘Do you think you’d be interested?’ If I’ve got something else going on or think I wouldn’t be the best at it, I can say no. You can volunteer when you want. There’s no pressure.”

Both Wyrick and Dreyer appreciate the monthly RSVP newsletter.

“They keep in contact, but they don’t bug you,” says Dreyer. “You can see all the volunteer opportunities. The one-time or short-term ones are good for snowbirds” who live in warmer climates during the winter months, she says.

Wyrick also notes the helpful information contained in the newsletters, including information on how to obtain the local Area Agency on Aging resource guide for people who are aging or of any age with a disability.

‘They can keep their life … and still help.’

“We like to give out information that can potentially help [the volunteers], in addition to the people they’re helping as they volunteer,” says Woodsworth.

Such information is also provided at the annual Senior Corps luncheon. In recent years, the event has included sessions on disability and inclusion, baby boomers as caregivers, and a presentation by a staff member of the Social Security Administration.

Help for RSVP volunteers goes beyond providing useful information. Because all of the volunteers are at least 55, says Woodsworth, “we know that more than likely they’ll end up being a family caregiver at some point.”

In such situations, she explains, continuing to volunteer, even if for less time, “can give them a sense of self-continuity throughout the caregiving. And when the caregiving ends, they haven’t lost everything.

“We don’t want those caring for loved ones to completely isolate themselves into that role. We want caregiving to be about making all the connections within the community that could possibly support them, as well as staying connected to volunteering if that has been a part of their life.”

To help all caregivers—not just those volunteering—the central Indiana RSVP branch offers caregiver support.

“We have support groups, we do simple home modifications,” Woodsworth says. “Anything we can to support any caregiver in the best possible way—which may or may not include volunteering—and still help the person who needs them.”

‘It’s a win-win’

Neither Dreyer nor Wyrick have had to turn to RSVP’s caregiver support, a fact for which both are grateful.

For now, they simply enjoy helping their community and reaping the rewards that come to those age 55 and older who volunteer.

According to literature published by the CNCS, studies show that people in that age range who volunteer gain many benefits—improvements in quality of life, physical and mental health, independence and self-esteem, and decreases in chronic pain, depression and anxiety, to name a few.

Such benefits make sense to Wyrick, who notes that volunteering is “better than sitting around watching Jerry Springer and eating McDonald’s every day. It’s healthy to get out and talk to other people, if nothing else than to be grateful and thankful you have the limbs and strength and know-how to help others.”

Dreyer agrees.

“It’s easy to sit and do nothing,” she says. “I’ve got a favorite room with floor‑to-ceiling windows and a comfy recliner. I could sit in there and read for hours.

“But that’s not good for your health or your brain. It’s important to communicate with the world, to not get stuck in a mode and cut off.

“And the organizations are so grateful for the help. It’s really a win-win.”

(For more information on the Catholic Charities of Indianapolis’ branch of RSVP covering Hamilton, Hendricks, Johnson and Marion counties, contact Monica Woodsworth at 317-261-3378, or e-mail her at


Related: Serving seniors and seniors serving in central and southern Indiana

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