CHESTERTOWN — Volunteering has never been easier. Upper Shore Aging’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, sponsored by Upper Shore Aging Inc. and funded by AmeriCorps, spans three counties on the Upper Eastern Shore of Maryland: Kent, Talbot and Caroline. RSVP, launched in 2021, recruits and places older adults (age 55+) in a diverse range of volunteer activities to meet various community needs.
Mavis Jones joined the program in August 2021 as the Kent County project coordinator for Upper Shore Aging’s RSVP. She said, “My job is to recruit and place senior volunteers over the age of 55 to work with nonprofit organizations that are willing to host a senior volunteer. These nonprofits partner with USA to become a volunteer station, signing a memorandum of understanding which outlines the organization’s responsibilities.
Currently, in Kent County, these organizations include the Chester River Hospital Center Auxiliary, Amy Lynn Ferris Adult Activity Center, Meals on Wheels, Kent Association of Riding Therapy, Eastern Shore Rabbit Rescue and Education Center, Main Street Rock Hall, AARP Tax-Aide of the Mid-Shore, and Upper Shore Aging.
Jones added, “I am also looking to build relationships with any organization that wants to host senior volunteers so that we can expand the volunteer opportunities available.”
Upper Shore Aging’s website for RSVP, volunteersontheshore.org is a centralized place for anyone seeking a volunteer opportunity in Kent, Caroline or Talbot counties. The site includes information on the enrollment process and a listing under each county of volunteer opportunities.
That is how volunteer Gil Slagle of Worton found the site in May while looking for places to volunteer. Slagle, who volunteers at the Farmers Market held at the Amy Lynn Ferris Adult Activity Center, recently returned to the area after retiring from a career with Southern States and cooperative agriculture and living in North Carolina.
“I was born and raised in Kent County and was looking for a way to give back. I got on the Internet and searched for volunteer opportunities and this program came up,” he said.
“I enjoy interacting with the seniors coming through the Farmers Market and helping them with their produce. I am interested in doing additional volunteering with the Chester River Hospital Center Auxiliary.”
In addition to the Amy Lynn Ferris Adult Activity Center, volunteers can work at several other locations, including the Eastern Shore Rabbit Rescue and Education Center in Rock Hall. Here they can feed and groom the bunnies, clean cages, and provide rotational play time in a large pen. At the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, volunteers can assist nurses and other hospital staff by performing messenger duties, patient, and specimen transportation, and conducting COVID screening of visitors.
Jones said that RSVP is always looking for new organizations to place volunteers with so that the program can get volunteers in the right places right off the bat.
“The benefits of the RSVP are that I can screen them to determine what might be a good fit for their volunteer service and help them navigate getting connected to that organization. This can be a real timesaver as there are a lot of nonprofits in Kent County. Our volunteers also become part of a network of volunteers,” Jones said.
“This program serves a dual purpose. It’s not only giving the senior volunteer a meaningful volunteer experience that suits them, it’s serving the needs of the organization, which also means meeting critical community needs.”
Some of the advantages of being an RSVP volunteer are that the volunteers are covered under a supplemental accident and liability insurance policy, they can get meal and mileage reimbursement, and they receive volunteer recognition and ongoing support.
Currently, there are between 25 and 30 people in the program and the average age of RSVP volunteers is in the 60s. Jones schedules each volunteer commitment based on the terms of the volunteer.
“I’m finding with senior volunteers that they want flexibility — some just want a few hours at a time and others want to give more of their time. The majority probably also want to do something different from what they’ve done in their careers.
Upper Shore Aging serves Kent, Talbot and Caroline counties, so the RSVP has coordinators like Jones in each of the counties to help match volunteers to services. Volunteer service opportunities are as diverse as the communities in which volunteers serve and can include areas such as delivering meals to the homebound, offering to transport a senior to an appointment, helping with a home repair, socializing with a senior in person or by phone, teaching or leading an activity at a Senior Center, assisting with tax preparation, or offering legal aid, helping with a community garden, packaging and distributing food at a food pantry, tutoring or mentoring a child, supporting a child in school or during a summer program, or working with developmentally disabled children or adults.
In Kent County, RSVP is looking for volunteers to help with the senior care programs, senior reassurance phone calling, answering phones, making calls and greeting visitors at Upper Shore Aging’s office, as well as engaging seniors in an activity at the Senior Center.
“Anyone with crafting abilities, health promotion skills, or any kind of special talent is welcome to come to offer that to our seniors,” Jones said.
Jones, a retired public health nurse, took this volunteer coordinator position because she was not ready to stop working completely herself. “I love working with the volunteers – just the whole networking part of this. I still think that we have not tapped into the growing number of volunteers out there who want to volunteer but just haven’t pulled the trigger yet,” she said.
“We have got a lot of organizations doing a lot of good things, but they are sort of operating in silos. I like the idea of trying to bring people together to serve the needs of the county. For organizations that become a part of RSVP, they become aware of some other organizations that are doing something similar so that they can coordinate services.”
According to Andy Hollis, executive director of Upper Shore Aging, “We are currently looking for people to serve as project coordinators in Caroline and Talbot counties. It’s a great opportunity for someone who is connected to their community. We are not only looking for volunteers in each county for this program, but we are also looking at developing new relationships with volunteer organizations to serve as volunteer stations.”
To volunteer or to become a volunteer station in Kent County, call Mavis Jones at 410-708-6610. If you are interested in applying for a position as a project coordinator for the RSVP, contact Andy Hollis at 410-778-6000. For more information, visit volunteersontheshore.org.
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