Written by Betsy Abraham Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00
Whenever Joan Brown walks into the Westbury Senior Center, she heads straight for the bulletin board. The bulletin board has a list of people who are sick or have had a family member pass away, and stacked with a pile of cards, Brown diligently begins to write encouraging, thoughtful notes to the seniors going through a tough time.
Brown has been writing cards at the senior center for years, and recently became a part of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). RSVP is a nationwide program that connects seniors, 55 and over, with volunteer service organizations in their community. The program used to be run by the Nassau County Office for the Aging, but was dropped a few years ago.
Now, the Nassau County chapter of RSVP is run by FEGS Health and Human Services, a Syosset-based non-profit founded in 1934 by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.
FEGS was awarded a $10,000 grant for RSVP in April, and since then has placed over 175 local volunteers with different organizations including the American Red Cross, Long Island Blood Services, Oyster Bay and Westbury Senior Centers, Catholic Charities, Mary Brennan Interfaith Nutrition Network, and area hospitals.
Mindy Fischer, in charge of placement for RSVP, says she tries to match each volunteer’s interests with a local need. If a volunteer is placed in a service assignment he or she doesn’t like, it is possible to request a new assignment.
“It’s a great opportunity for seniors to dabble in things,” Fischer said.
Volunteers engage in a myriad of activities, such as visiting homebound seniors, serving food at soup kitchens or aiding in hurricane relief. Less conventional volunteer opportunities, include educating people on health insurance or growing vegetables for a food pantry.
“It’s unique in that there’s a lot of different opportunities. If someone doesn’t know what they want to do, we can offer them a menu of opportunities,” Fischer said, “Many times ones that they didn’t even know exist.”
Brown was able to use a lifelong love of writing to bring joy and encouragement to other seniors.
“It makes me feel great,” Brown said. “I love to write and many years ago I saw myself as a writer. I have a flair for putting words together so I really enjoy my job here.”
Fellow Westbury senior center volunteer Sandra Lawless helps out wherever needed, whether it’s setting up for meal times or helping someone in Bingo.
“I just like to be around people. I’m a people person and love helping," Brown says.
When an interested person inquires about RSVP opportunities, Fischer will do an interview and background check, then refer them to a volunteer agency that seems to meet their
interests. This not only helps the volunteers, who no longer have to do hours of research on different organizations, but the nonprofit agencies. Now, instead of vetting hundreds of applicants, an agency can let RSVP do the interviewing.
“This way we can spend our time doing other things like focus on training the volunteers and making sure they have a positive experience,” said Natalie Barnofski, Senior Manager of Volunteer Activities at New York Blood Center.