RSVP celebrates 40th anniversary during National Volunteer Week

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Oswego County, established on the SUNY Oswego campus in 1973 as a means of dealing with the loneliness and depression of senior citizens, celebrated its 40th anniversary during National Volunteer Week, April 21-27.

Over its 40 years, RSVP has evolved into a primary means for mature adults ages 55 and older to integrate into the life of their community through programs that emphasize prevention and enable older Americans to age in place.

RSVP’s mission is to encourage and foster the development and maintenance of volunteer opportunities that engage, support and enhance the lives of Americans 55-plus, while responding to the priority needs of the community. The organization aims to help strengthen the Oswego community using volunteers as a critical resource to meet community needs.

It does this by collaborating with more than 100 nonprofit agencies and programs and working within the framework of strategic initiatives developed by its federal sponsor, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and local sponsor SUNY Oswego, where RSVP has its headquarters in the Office of Business and Community Relations.

Healthy Futures is one such initiative, and one in which RSVP has had its most far-reaching impact. Healthy Futures includes RSVP’s largest program to date, Osteoporosis Bone Builders, in which RSVP volunteers lead their peers in the control of osteoporosis.  More than 65 RSVP volunteers conduct exercise sessions two or three times a week at 23 sites for nearly 400 participants.

From the success of Osteo Bone Builders, RSVP launched the Six Steps to Better Balance program last October, which targets falls prevention, an integral component of the osteo exercise regimen. This spring, RSVP is extending the outreach of both programs to veterans, also a strategic initiative of the federal sponsor. A third initiative RSVP is addressing is obesity prevention, with the development of countywide Walking Clubs.

Economic impact

In addition to health and wellness programming, RSVP has made strides in economic impact, recruiting volunteers to work as income-tax preparation aides, at food pantries, with tourist information and other initiatives.
In the area of education, RSVP has received numerous honors, including the Presidential Award for Exemplary Volunteer Service, the Governor’s Decade of the Child Award, and an award from the state Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to name a few. Similar accolades and success stories have occurred across a broad spectrum of community service, including the areas of arts and culture, the environment and human needs.

RSVP’s 40-year track record has featured innovation, involvement of seniors in implementation, capacity building and sustainability, and excellence in programming. Ellen Wahl, the program director in Oswego County, said the organization remains sensitive to current local needs and emerging trends while working within a framework national in scope. 

By using volunteers as a resource and “helping seniors to help themselves,” RSVP engages seniors as part of the solution, not part of the problem, she said. By partnering with other nonprofit agencies, RSVP strives to be a win-win for providers and recipients of services.

In four decades, RSVP has come a long way from focusing on addressing the loneliness and depression often characteristic of the golden years, Wahl said. Programming in the 21st century is more evidence-based, more crucial for well-being and often requires more in-depth training.

With a corps of baby-boomers and other seniors more educated, more healthy and living longer than at any time in history, RSVP is up to the challenge, she said. RSVP will continue to strive to offer a high-quality experience to volunteers by developing opportunities that are rewarding, challenging and strengthen the Oswego County community. 

RSVP offers Mature Living, a free bimonthly newsletter with news and information that is national and local in scope and of interest to older Americans, as well as volunteer opportunities for older residents of Oswego County. For more information, call 312-2317 or email rsvp@oswego.edu. The United Way also sponsors RSVP, located in Room103 of Rich Hall on the SUNY Oswego campus.

(Posted: Apr 30, 2013)

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