Elders Seize Opportunity To Give Back

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Spokane County - the grandaddy of Inland Northwest community service institutions - is unusual in several ways.

Nearly 1,000 persons strong, the RSVP unit is the largest single contingent of community-service volunteers anywhere in the region by a wide margin.

Even so, it is little known.

As the name implies, RSVP members give of their time and talents to others for free.

Obviously, these are people who share a strong commitment to community and to their neighbors.

All of which might lead one to expect that a goodly number would be willing, if not eager, to share with the community their experiences as volunteers and the personal satisfaction that comes from giving unselfishly to others.

But repeated efforts by me to line up interviews with volunteers in the past have come to naught. While management of RSVP solicits public recognition for the invaluable contributions of this army of unsung heros, the good Samaritans themselves appear to prize privacy above all else, shunning personal publicity at every turn. Most unusual.

Gene LaLiberte, assistant director of the senior volunteers for the Spokane Police Department, is a rare exception. The retired career military man works full time as coordinator of the senior volunteer effort in support of Spokane law enforcement, sometimes putting in as much as 50 hours a week.

In the first six months of 1997, 50 senior volunteers gave a total of 14,879 hours to the police department and the community, according to LaLiberte.

Volunteers man the front desk at the Police Station, the information booth in the Public Safety Building, the public service counter at STA Plaza, etc.

They perform daily “vacation home checks.” If you are going out of town for a while, just phone. Someone will drop by on a daily basis, check the doors, and keep an eye on things while you are away. No charge.

Other retirees run radar speed-checks around schools and city parks at different times of the day when youngsters are present. The list of chores goes on and on.

LaLiberte figures he’s put in more than 13,000 volunteer hours since retiring seven years ago.

“I am so appreciative of the opportunity to serve as a volunteer,” he says. “I know that if I had stayed home, and just sat and watched TV like a lot of retired people do all day, I would have been gone in a year like so many of them.”

LaLiberte’s 50-member law enforcement support unit includes 26 women and 24 men. “Our oldest member,” he notes, “is a 93-year-old gentlemen. Our oldest lady is 86. I can’t keep her busy enough. We have three husband-and-wife teams.

“These people are giving something back,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but much more fun. We’re giving back to the community, and we’re getting a lot back in return.”

That’s the main idea behind RSVP, says Susan Russell, director of the nonprofit clearing house which matches volunteers with about 100 understaffed nonprofit agencies and government public-service programs in the community.

“Our No. 1 goal is to provide meaningful opportunities for public service of a nature that in turn will enrich the lives of volunteers,” says Russell. “Our No. 2 objective is to perform work for the community that otherwise would not get done.”

RSVP members provide an array of social services, from tutoring youth at risk to conveying elders in need of transportation, from guiding visitors on tours to delivering “Meals on Wheels” for shut-ins, from working in soup kitchens to caring for abused children and mentoring unwed teenage moms. Opportunities to serve are endless.

The program is partially funded by the Corporation for National Community Service and is sponsored locally by the YMCA of the Inland Northwest.

“It’s a privilege to work with the people I do,” says Russell. “They are positive about life. They want to make a difference, and make this community better.”

The number at RSVP is 838-3577.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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