Monday, September 21, 2009

Seniors volunteer to give their lives meaning

They call it RSVP: for Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

As the name suggests, it is a national program that links seniors (55 and older) to charities needing volunteers.

On Oct. 1, that group will get a chance to drop in and learn about those charities at Senior Volunteer Fair 2009, sort of a college fair for the near-retired and retired. The fair, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be at the Tyvola Senior Center, 2225 Tyvola Rd.

The charities aren't the only ones that get all the benefits when seniors volunteer.

"There are a lot of health benefits for seniors, especially if you can find a volunteer role that matches up with your interests," said Sarah Jackson, RSVP Charlotte's project director.

Studies show that people live longer, happier lives when they volunteer.

Many people don't like idle time after retirement.

"They get that human connection giving back to the community," said Jackson, who's been with RSVP Charlotte since last December. "It feels good to be actively a part of something -- and feel like you're needed. It gives people a sense of purpose."

Often, retired people tell Jackson that retirement wasn't what they thought it would be. "They say, 'When I was working fulltime, I thought it'd be fine when I retired. But I can't stand being home,'' she said. "They say, 'I want to get out and do things. And feel like I'm helping people.'"

She also hears from people freshly out of work, who add meaning to their lives and idle time by volunteering.

RSVP Charlotte is part of a national program, with funding from the Corporation for National and Community Services, Mecklenburg County and United Way. In Charlotte, it is sponsored by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Senior Centers.

It partners with more than 50 Charlotte area nonprofits to place seniors in volunteer functions. The agencies include food banks, senior nutrition programs, museums, public safety departments, hospitals and schools.

On Oct. 1, there'll be about 25 nonprofits manning booths at the fair. Seniors are invited to drop in and hear from as many nonprofits as they want.

"The fair is for them, but if anyone wants to learn about these 25 charities they're free to drop by," Jackson said. "The idea is to get people volunteering."