Get to know Chicago’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)

The Jane Addams Hull House Association’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) provides volunteer opportunities at 137 nonprofit organizations in the city of Chicago for 790 active volunteers ages 55 and older. Senior Corps states that one of the benefits of engaging older adult volunteers
“is that seniors pass on knowledge and encourage those younger or less experienced than themselves. By volunteering they are allowed to share their story with others, often fulfilling their need to share their experiences. Volunteering also allows those who have few or no children to enjoy the company of others. Often creating bonds of lasting friendship.”
Other benefits include self preservation and independence.

Rosetta Butts: Longtime RSVP Volunteer and Chicagoan

Rosetta Butts recalls constantly hearing negative stories about local youth, and how this made her feel an urge to do something positive in response. “A lot of people don’t do anything to make a difference,” Butts notes. “I wanted to make a difference.” Butts, an RSVP volunteer since October of 2005, became a Grandparents Please volunteer last April. Working with other seniors, she mentors a small group of elementary school boys on Tuesday afternoons at Parkway Community House in Woodlawn, a Jane Addams Hull House Association community center that provides services to children, seniors and families. Butts is one of 32 Grandparents Please volunteers who, together, have provided 4,262 hours of volunteer services. Margo Rudd, Grandparents Please Program Manager, reports that currently 25 local children between 7 and 13 years old participate in the after-school program, where they’re mentored by seniors ages 55 and older. According to Rudd, this intergenerational program thrives because children involved at Parkway have always gravitated toward the members of RSVP. “There was a need for Grandparents Please long before it was an agency program,” states Rudd, adding that many of the children weren’t used to interacting with elderly people. Grandparents Please instills in children valuable character traits such as courtesy, respect for authority figures, and kindness towards others. Participants also learn anger management strategies, which Rudd cites as a common need amongst boys. “This program allows them to express themselves and find out why they’re angry,” Rudd says. It also helps kids avoid behavioral problems at home and school by learning to channel their anger. “We’re the buffers,” Rudd explains. One week, Butts had each of the boys in her group write his own rap about respect. “They like something with action,” Butts explains of the boys, whom she’s starting to think of as her own grandchildren. Rudd shares that the different generations bond quickly as seniors pass down folklore, share recipes, teach hobbies such as crocheting and generally “do things that grandparents do.” She has also noticed that the children are at an age at which they are still open to trying anything. “They celebrate life together,” reflects Rudd. Interaction between generations also enables children to understand the elderly. Rudd thinks intergenerational volunteering is a beautiful concept because it decreases generational gaps while giving mentors a zest for life and something to look forward to. Butts, who has 11 grandchildren as well as a great granddaughter, observes other benefits of intergenerational volunteering. ‘I think it’s good—it gives kids a different view,’ asserts Butts. “It shows them Grandma doesn’t just stay in the house or cook all day.’”

Senior Volunteer Efforts in Chicago and Nationwide

Senior volunteering is occurring throughout the country in a wide variety of ways. For example, a group of seniors in Milwaukee was recognized for helping homebound individuals to remain in the community and not move to nursing facilities. In Chicago, 9 RSVP volunteers provided 2,319 hours of public safety and homeland security services at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago in the past fiscal year. Similar to other Haiti relief efforts, volunteers from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago provided relief at O’Hare International Airport to 166 Haiti evacuees, including 43 children and infants.  RSVP volunteers assisted the Red Cross with providing the Haiti evacuees with shelter, food, medical care, hygiene kits, translation services, computers and phone access, support in reconnecting with loved ones, and counseling and comfort. Also within the past fiscal year, 28 Chicago-area RSVP volunteers provided 1,927 hours of tutoring, mentoring, office and educational assistance services at Hayt, Boone, and St. Dorothy’s Schools, The Art Institute, Chicago Children’s Choir, Chicago Children’s Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. There are various places throughout the Chicago area where seniors can volunteer their time. If you know a senior who is interested in volunteering, connect them with local RSVP volunteer opportunities. Common places for seniors to volunteer in their community include: libraries, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, churches, food pantries, animal shelters, fundraisers, and many more.

Services Provided by RSVP

RSVP provides many services and benefits for its senior volunteers and the organizations that utilize RSVP volunteers, such as volunteer travel reimbursements, free senior volunteer additional liability insurance coverage, special events, low cost and free field trips and senior issue focus groups. Refer a senior in the Chicago area by calling Jeff Nelson at 312-235-5359 or by emailing jnelson@hullhouse.org

New RSVP Initiative with Northwestern Memory Clinic

RSVP is now working on collaborating with Jaimie Robinson and the Neurobehavior and Memory Clinic of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) – Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, to assist those with early to moderate Alzheimer’s to remain as active as possible through volunteer service. RSVP is always interested in collaborating with organizations that can provide interesting and quality volunteer opportunities for seniors. To find out more, please contact Senior Services/RSVP Director Jeff Nelson at (312) 235-5359 or at jnelson@hullhouse.org.   This article was edited by Danielle Dodson.

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Jeff Nelson has been with RSVP and Senior Services for Jane Addams Hull House Association for 14 years. Jeff has an MA in the Education of the Specific Learning Disabled and a BA in Psychology from Northwestern University. Jeff’s previous employment history includes being the Coordinator of Intake, Education and Case Management for employment services for disabled, ex-offender and economically disadvantaged individuals for Goodwill Industries of Metropolitan Chicago, and the Assistant Director of Education and Habilitation Services for severely and profoundly mentally handicapped youth for Augustana Center/Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Jeff also currently volunteers for the Youth Group at Center on Halsted.

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