Helping Hands: One powerful corps of volunteers in Summit County
Summit County seniors aren’t just retired, they’re “re-fired,” according to Christy Nelson, volunteer coordinator at the Summit County Community & Senior Center. Nelson heads the Summit County chapter of RSVP, a federally funded program that encourages volunteerism in those ages 55 and older. “These are the most active retirees I’ve ever met,” Nelson said. “They know how to play hard and work hard.”RSVP volunteers do just about everything – from tutoring to leading recreational groups – within nonprofits, government agencies and health care providers within the community. In 2010, 333 volunteers in Summit County served 21,547 hours at 54 different volunteer sites. The group values the work contribution at almost a half-million dollars. “There’s a lot to do up here,” Nelson said. “I think we have a large nonprofit base that a lot of counties don’t have. People see a need, form a nonprofit and are then meeting the need. That’s the kind of people we have up here.” There are six key impact areas RSVP covers: community and economic development; health and nutrition; education; environment; housing; emergency preparedness and public safety. Examples of stations include the Summit Foundation, St. Anthony Medical Center, Mountain Mentors, High Country Conservation, Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross. “My goal is to ensure I have volunteers in each of those areas, and stations that serve those particular areas,” Nelson said. Nelson asks volunteers what their interests are, and tries to connect them with the stations that suit them best. RSVP holds an agreement with each organization ensuring volunteers will be trained, well-supervised and kept out of dangerous situations.
The Summit County RSVP is funded by a national grant shared with Eagle County. The group is one branch of the nationwide RSVP program, which was founded in 1993 with bipartisan support from Congress, the president and community groups throughout the United States. “We’re trying to serve the community,” Nelson said. “The RSVP program shows the impact this age group has on the community.”Connie Stark has been volunteering with the RSVP program for almost four years. She and her husband organize and clean up after Monday night dinners at the senior center, which usually draw about 120 people. She also helps Meals on Wheels on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and volunteers at a rummage sale held every August. The sale benefits nonprofits that serve seniors in Summit County. Last year, it raised $45,000. Stark, who lives in Denver for part of the year, said she enjoys spending her time volunteering with RSVP, and has made many new friends through the program.”I love it,” she said. “I just needed to be out of the house, and get out and meet people. There’s so many people here you can meet.”Kathryn Grohusky, Community & Senior Center manager, said the need for services that benefit seniors is growing due to an increase in people over 65. “Growth of our population increases the need for services,” she said. Every year, volunteers are honored at the Annual Community & Senior Center RSVP Volunteer Corp. Recognition. This year’s event took place last month and drew over 150 attendees. Select volunteers were recognized for particularly outstanding efforts. Grohusky said Les and Carol Clarke, Clint Condict, Jerry Jones and Jay Weides, were all awarded for their outstanding efforts as volunteer drivers for the Community & Senior Center’s medical transportation program. The grant that funds the nonprofit is coming to the end of its three-year cycle. Nelson said she will be competing for a new Summit County grant.”We’ve got a great program that’s been expanding over the years,” she said. “I’d hate to see it fade away. Whether or not we have an RSVP program, these are incredible people who volunteer.”
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