by Dennis Dalman
People 55 and older who volunteer not only help others, they help themselves by experiencing decreased incidents of depression, reduction in stress levels and a big boost in feelings of happiness.
That was the upbeat message delivered to a recent meeting of the Sartell City Council by two members of AmeriCorps RSVP, the Retired Senior Citizen Volunteer Program. The federal AmeriCorps is the main funder for RSVP. The speakers who gave the presentation were RSVP Director Jennifer Wucherer and agency’s St. Cloud Area Program Coordinator Tawna Quimby. Those two speakers wanted the city council to become aware of how Sartell and its volunteers are so important to RSVP’s success. The council thanked them for sharing the information.
Currently, there are 70 senior citizens in Sartell who are active in AmeriCorps RSVP (AmeriCorps because that federal program is one of the agency’s funding sources).
Those Sartell seniors are among the nearly 900 RSVP volunteers who work in the counties of Stearns, Benton, Sherburne and Wright. An average of five people join the agency every week, and membership has increased nicely after the worst times of the pandemic.
“These folks bring rich diversity with a range of ages, cultural heritage and a wide variety of professional backgrounds and experiences,” Wucherer said.
The volunteers can choose how, where and when they want to help. They receive volunteer orientation that includes training and support, bus fare and/or vehicle transportation to and from services, and accident and liability coverage.
In 2021, RSVP volunteers contributed more than 74,000 hours of service in the four-county region. They served partnering organizations by enhancing the variety of needs in central Minnesota. Those needs include financial security, food security, healthy aging, K-12 education (mentoring/tutoring/reading sessions with children), veterans’ support, health and wellness, and transportation.
In 2022, RSVP hosted nine food drives for area food shelves during which 30 RSVP volunteers collected 1,700 pounds of food and $1,156 in cash donations.
A new service called Happiness in Action program will begin mental-health outreach efforts, thanks to funding from AmeriCorps.
In 2021, Sartell’s 70 active volunteers contributed 7,148 hours by providing the equivalent of $200,000 worth of help to the area (based on the estimated national value of each volunteer hour).
Wucherer said RSVP’s mission is to “provide opportunities for our local seniors to be involved and engaged in the community as we advocate for productive aging through meaningful service.”
There is a rapidly growing need for such opportunities, she said, noting in just seven years one in five people in the nation will be age 65 or older.
In January 2022, 154 RSVP volunteers completed a survey. Responses showed 96 percent of them feel a “sense of purpose” through their volunteering, 96 percent feel “safe and valued” during their volunteer experiences, and 88 percent agree RSVP helps them feel connected socially to others.
RSVP began in the St. Cloud region in 1973. It partners with more than 100 local non-profit agencies, including healthcare and governmental ones. In Sartell, some of its volunteers work in the schools, at Country Manor and with the Sartell Senior Connection program. Some also partner with emergency management tasks in the county.
“We love what we do,” Wucherer said. “We love working with this program because we have such strong support, working with a wide variety of individuals who want to do good and make a difference in their communities.”
The RSVP office for the greater St. Cloud area is located in the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud at 1529 Northway Drive. Its phone number is 320-255-7295. To find out more and how to become a volunteer, call that number or visit the St. Cloud office website by googling AmeriCorps Seniors Serving Central Minnesota.