Essex County Virginia


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Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)

30 years later, good idea has blossomed into senior services in Tappahannock.

Over thirty years ago President Lyndon Johnson took an idea to Congress which took root and is now spread over the entire United States as well as Japan and England.

The program is the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Johnson saw an opportunity to utilize the rich resources of experience, skills, and talents of people who are no longer in the work force.

Initially folks had to be 60 to participate, but many companies encourage early retirement so the age limit has been lowered to 55.

The local organization, under the auspices of the Chesapeake Bay Agency on Aging, is under the guidance of a director of the 10 County program.

Most counties have coordinators who work about 20 hours a week. Several volunteers go to the haven and build equipment or repair things. Others go to nursing homes, usually on specific days and times, working with a specific patient. They may write letters, read Bible stories or read mail. There have been times when patients who were not responsive started talking because of the RSVP volunteer's interest.

As a part of the home delivery of meals, a lady went to a home where there were kittens and puppies who also needed food, so RSVP started that program. One woman had to go to dialysis each day 70 miles away. She had to be there at 8 a.m. There were seven volunteers who worked one day each week and waited the five or six hours and drove her home.

Another teaches migrant workers' children English. But not in the usual way. She uses Monopoly to teach them. They are learning English with a Southern accent. RSVP had a lady who wrote all her life. When she was 90 and went into the nursing home, her grand niece wanted the writing separated and organized. One of the volunteers organized the short stories, poetry, and other writings. In the process, she and the older lady became good friends.

Being a surrogate grandparent for children who come home to empty houses is another service. Volunteers become telephone certified, and call the child to be sure he or she is home safely; they chat with the child about homework and what he or she expects to be doing during the afternoon. They may call back to check on the child, working with the schools. A note is sent home to the parents to see if they want the service. The program is up and running in Essex County.

RSVP has folks in their 80s volunteering. Some people in nursing homes are part of the telephone reassurance program, where a home bound person is called twice a day. Another RSVP volunteer is one of the only prison chaplains in Virginia. He counsels inmates and their families.

RSVP is now asking seniors to bring in all their pills to RSVP offices in a brown bag. Volunteer pharmacists will go over the medications to be sure they do not clash. Volunteers take pets to nursing homes, including a pot-bellied pig, on occasion. Another takes trips to foreign countries and brings slides to the nursing homes, taking the residents on their own flights of fancy.

A worried grandson called about his grandfather. He said he loved fishing. A volunteer called, asking how he could help. The coordinator asked, "do you fish?" The affirmative response was good for both. Volunteers who work in museums really learn about the County.

Government forms must be filed three times a year. The volunteers log in their hours each month, reporting where and how they were transported.

The forms make a human profile. As an example, in January of 1996, despite the snow storms, 548 volunteers turned in time sheets for 72 work sites. Even though it was a low month, RSVP logged in 11,268 hours. If the volunteers had been paid at the rate of $5 an hour, their time value was $56,341.25.

The total cost to keep the program funded in the 10 counties is $122,562.00 of which only $71,149 comes from the federal government. The remainder of the funds are donated and raised by RSVP including the County Boards of Supervisors.

Senior volunteers are the most reliable people in the world. They have so much experience and they come in with great ideas from their childhoods. Urge employers to look into hiring older people. They do not watch the clock, they do the job well, stay until it's finished and take pride in the work they do.

According to RSVP, senior volunteers are the most beautiful people in the world; they go with the tide, change easily, repair seams, sew on buttons.

People who are depressed or have a fear of leaving the house need to be committed to something.

RSVP has a program called, "I Can" for those volunteers who are unable to commit to specific dates and times. They will fill in slots and do tasks which need doing. For more information, RSVP's number is 804-333-3664.

Agency on Aging - Care Manager
JoLene Self
P.O. Box 2461
Tappahannock, Va. 22560
RSVP: 800-693-6109 or 804-443-0037

RSVP Coordinator
Margaret Dean
P.O. Box 142
Tappahannock, VA 22560
Phone: 804-443-5452
Senior Activity Center Manager
Barbara Cook
Tappahannock Greens Apts.
1990 Cold Cheer Rd.
Tappahannock, VA 22560
Phone: 804-443-5675
on Monday, Wednesday & Friday mornings
Urbanna Branch
Robin Harris
P.O. Box 610 
Urbanna, VA 23175 
Phone: 804-758-2386 
FAX: 804-758-5773 
Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.