By MORGAN MANNS
A local program is offering older adults a greater purpose by providing them the opportunity to help their fellow seniors.
RSVP (Retired Senior and Volunteer Program) connects volunteers ages 55 and older with service opportunities in the community that match their skills and availability.
“We put them into non-profits, schools and government agencies where they can serve as volunteers in many different capacities,” said Ariel Nearhood, RSVP coordinator for Seneca, Wyandot and Huron counties.
Volunteer opportunities are based on the services provided by local organizations and may include providing food to the hungry, organizing neighborhood watch programs, tutoring and mentoring, renovating homes, teaching English to immigrants, assisting victims of natural disasters or helping the disabled get to the doctor’s office or grocery store.
According to Nearhood, the goal is for volunteers to be from Fostoria — “Fostoria seniors helping Fostoria seniors.”
RSVP introduced a new program in 2020 for which officials are seeking volunteers and clients.
Entitled Telefriend, the program seeks to help older residents build relationships and stay social.
“We began to survey the needs in the community and it pointed to a lot of socialization and the mental health of our county in general,” Nearhood explained. “We recognize that there’s a need here or there’s something kind of missing when someone isn’t able to get out anymore or be a part of the community. They’re at the stage between being in a facility and being independent where they miss those connections and don’t know where to go.”
The Telefriend Program searches for local volunteers to make a phone call to those older adults who may need that type of social interaction.
While the forefront of the program is not to meet in person, Nearhood said volunteers and clients may meet if so inclined. Volunteers are required to keep the phone calls confidential — reporting only red flags to Nearhood — to respect the client.
“We don’t want (our volunteers) wearing the burden of doctor or ATM or psychologist. They’re not a referral service,” she said. “But we want them to treat it like a friendship and value that person’s welfare.”
“When you’re home all alone, you don’t feel like you’re important anymore,” she added. “The goal of the program is to bring in volunteers to basically be a telephone buddy.”
Volunteers set up a time with the client on when to make the phone call.
Volunteers must be 55 years of age or older and can be working or retired. They must go through an enrollment process, including a background check and non-family references.
They then meet with Nearhood, who provides support and answers any questions, and organization officials, who handle all of the training and scheduling.
Nearhood said the biggest chunk of volunteers from the Fostoria area support Fostoria City Schools’ Project MORE mentoring program. Mentoring in Ohio for Reading Excellence is an evidence-based volunteer reading mentoring project for students who are behind in reading.
Other programs volunteers may assist with include the American Red Cross, local food pantries, CASA, local libraries, Fostoria Farmers’ Markets, local churches and more.
“Most volunteers usually have an idea of what they want to do but I always like to do what I call a trial run,” Nearhood said. “I meet with them and the agency they want to serve and host a three-way meeting so they can both ask and answer questions and get a better feel for what each is expecting.
“For example, a lot of people may say they don’t have that education background and aren’t qualified for mentoring programs in the schools but once they get in there and see those cute kids who really just want someone to be there for them, their fear disappears in an instant.
“We want them to feel like they would make an impact in the program they’re in. We want to put them somewhere they are wanted and somewhere they feel safe.”
Volunteers with RSVP of Seneca, Wyandot and Huron counties choose how, where and how often they want to serve and aren’t required to live in any of the three counties in which they volunteer. Assignments can be on a regular weekly or monthly basis or can be short-term or even one-day events.
They receive supplemental insurance — auto, medical and life policy — through the program while on the clock and retain that insurance as long as they volunteer a minimum of one hour per year.
“When people volunteer, we’ve found that they’re healthier, mentally and physically,” Nearhood said, noting several studies have been completed. “It helps not only their well-being but the well-being of their client when they’re more involved in the community.”
To become a volunteer or be a part of the Telefriend program or organizations seeking volunteers, contact Nearhood at 419-448-1530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on RSVP, visit https://fcsserves.org/program/retired-senior-volunteer-program/ or find RSVP of Seneca, Wyandot & Huron Counties on Facebook.