A major theory holds that satisfactions in later life is related to continuing involvement in the work of, one's community and the larger society.
Still, many elderly persons, with time on their hands and a variety of talents to offer, find themselves feeling unneeded, and sometimes useless and of little worth. This is not the case for the men and women, age 60 and over, who have become part of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), one of the programs operating under the parent orgainzation known as Older American Volunteers in ACTION.
In Montgomery County, where the program is directed by Leslie Einhorn, there are between 500 and 600 senior volunteers working in more than 100 stations throughout the country. These include such agencies as schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes. Volunteer services are carefully planned and are usually scheduled for four to six hours one day a week. There is no stipend, but no expense need be incurred by the volunteer. If a participant can drive, a mileage reimbursement is made; if transportation is needed, it is provided when possible.
Four area coordinators watch over the program in the field. One of these, Marion Schwartz, speaks of RSVP as a "beautiful program - participants love it. It gives them a chance to be counted in, a chance to meet people, to put their talents to work whether these are booking mending, preparing teaching materials, tutoring or giving free blood pressure readings. Many call back after their first day on assignment bubbling over in appreciation. When volunteers are thanked for the help they give, they give thanks in return for the opportunity. It is a big thing in their lives."
Schwartz said that more transportation would help the program expand and accommodate more volunteers who do not drive.
In Prince George's County the RSVP program is coordinated by Lacothia (Happy) Garcia. In 1973 there were about 100 volunteers involved; now there are more than 600 giving some 5,000 hours of service each month.
Happy speaks of the program with great enthusiasm: "So many older people are isolated. This program brings them back as part of their community. The involvement leads then to believe in themselves again." She said she gets many calls of appreciation from both the volunteers and from those they help. The program has received numerous certificates of appreciation from agencies served.
One of the agencies, or stations, served is the Curriculum Library at the University of Maryland which is directed by Dr. Lucia James. She said her two volunteers, Jessie Richardson and Helen Marx, are "fantastic. They are both over 70 and still teach some of the younger staff what it means to work and to be regular on the job. They are always there on the scheduled day and they are wonderful workers."
Richardson has been involved for more than four years and spends much of her day mending materials, something younger staff members are often reluctant to do. She and her supervisor regard this work as very worthwhile because repaired material can be used rather than discarded or replaced at additional expense. There is a sparkle in her eyes when she philosophizes about RSVP work.
"It's good to be doing things. I've worked all my life and couldn't stand doing nothing. There are many older people who would be better off if they became involved," said Richardson.
Both Richardson and Marx live in Hyattsville and drive to the university. Dr. James regards them as "members of her staff. They mix with others for work or for lunch. They do important work and have every reason to feel that they are significant persons."
For more information call the Division of Elder Affairs, RSVP office 279-1487, in Montgomery County. In Prince George's County, call the Department of Services and Programs for the Aging, RSVP office 350-1770.