The Senior Corps Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Dawes & Sioux County had another great year of supporting the community in the places it was needed most.  RSVP is made up of volunteers age 55 and older and is sponsored by Northwest Community Action Partnership.  Funding is provided through the Corporation for National and Community Service with support from Dawes County and the cities of Chadron and Crawford as well as local businesses and citizens.  The Corporation for National and Community Service is the federal agency for volunteering, service, and civic engagement. CNCS engages millions of Americans in citizen engagement through its AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs and leads the nation’s volunteer efforts. Senior Corps RSVP is dedicated to harnessing the power of experience its members gained over a lifetime and applying that experience to needs in the community.  What does this mean for Dawes & Sioux counties?  It means they received the value of 23,452 hours of volunteer service to help those in need and improve and support local activities. According to the Independent Sector, an organization that calculates the value of volunteer time, that equals $521,807 of benefit for Dawes & Sioux counties. The main focus of the local RSVP program is improving food security and social ties for those in our community, but RSVP volunteers also provide service to a multitude of non-profits in the northern panhandle.

RSVP volunteers support food pantries such as the Bread Basket, the Crawford Food Pantry, Extra Helpings, Shepherd’s Pantry, and supplemental mobile food pantries that occur in the counties served by Northwest Community Action Partnership.  They also serve at the Closer to Home soup kitchen and deliver Meals on Wheels through the Chadron Senior Center.  For some, this hot meal delivered by a friendly caring volunteer, may be the only meal and they only contact they get that day and it’s critical to their independence. To remain living in your own home when you grow older makes sense – we’ve lived independently for most of our adult lives.  Independence is an important part of a high quality life and it is not only good for seniors, it is less expensive to tax payers. But living independently as a senior has potential problems including social isolation, greater chance of depression, higher rate of anxiety, malnutrition, greater fall risk, and lack of help in an emergency to name a few. This last year our Retired & Senior volunteers recognized these risks and started a new program that provides a daily call of assurance to homebound seniors, disabled individuals and others needing a regular contact.  The program, CARE Callers, pairs an RSVP volunteer with an individual in need of friendly connection.  Through their daily chats, friendships form, the risks of living independently lessen and individuals are able to remain in their own homes longer.

Because of the service provided by RSVP volunteers in these areas last year over 400 people reported increased food security and 29 homebound individuals reported increased social ties.

Disaster preparation is another area of growth for the local RSVP program.  There has been no shortage of disasters in the news and Nebraska in not immune to the risks.  Natural and weather related disasters as well as man-made disasters such as active shooters pose threats to our security and safety.  Senior Corps RSVP volunteers joined forces with an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who was stationed at Northwest Community Partnership and addressed a special need. Partnering with the cities of Chadron and Crawford, Region 23, the Dawes County Fair Board, and local businesses, Dawes & Sioux County RSVP developed a core team of volunteers to staff a volunteer reception center (VRC) which will activate in the event of a major disaster.  Volunteers are critically needed at such times, but they must be welcomed, registered, trained and supervised – tasks that should not distract emergency agencies from their focus of public safety. The cities and commissioners have added the VRC to their disaster plans as an organization they can count to fill the specific need of managing the volunteers during a major disaster.   In addition to the VRC, a collaboration with the Chadron Community Foundation has resulted in the development of a structure for a disaster preparedness fund that will allow for planned giving and serve as a trusted receptacle for donations at the time of a disaster.  This will also help to protect donors from fraudulent funds that can be set up during disasters.

Ongoing RSVP activities include so much more.  In the last year, they co-sponsored 12 blood drives and supported the collection of over 250 units of blood for area hospitals.  Each year the Dawes & Sioux County RSVP volunteers spearhead the Salvation Army campaign. Nearly 300 ringing slots are filled by RSVP and community volunteers and last year $15,118 was raised.  Ninety percent of those funds stay in Dawes County to help our neighbors in times of emergency.  Whether that means critical food, emergency lodging, utility assistance during a bitter winter month or assistance during a special situation, the Salvation Army provides funding that is flexible and dedicated to helping locally. This year, the Salvation Army schedule is available online.  Go to www.ncap.info and click on News & Events to find the schedule.

Last year RSVP deepened its commitment to the United Way and volunteered for two special project – the United Way Stuff the Bus (with school supplies) and Day of Caring where they joined forces with Box Butte RSVP to pack 20,000 meals for the hungry.  School supplies were delivered to Dawes County schools and the food was distributed through the food pantries and the Kiwanis weekend backpack program that sends food home every Friday during the school year to help kids who may not get enough to eat on the weekend.  RSVP also partnered with Kiwanis and packed over 1,100 food packs to supplement the Kiwanis Weekend Backpack program for chronically hungry kids.  RSVP supported the Masonic Lodge in a Child Identification Program (ChIP).  This program increased the safety of 65 local children by providing their parents with identification kits to help authorities identify and locate their children in the event they were missing.

So what else do RSVP volunteers do locally?  They volunteer in the schools, sponsor a literacy campaign that provides books to those in need, they preserve and celebrate history through local museums and art centers, they visit and engage residents at the nursing homes, they serve in the Chadron and Dawes County Seniors Centers to provide a vibrant place for seniors to meet and connect, they staff local fairs and celebrations, and much more.

Rachel Johnson, Director of Volunteer Services at Northwest Community Action Partnership commented “In my humble opinion, it would be difficult to find a local non-profit organization that doesn’t benefit from the dedication of our Retired and Senior Volunteers.  RSVP makes our community stronger, more resilient, and a better place to live your entire life.  RSVP benefits all generations.  If you are 55 or older and want to be a part of RSVP, give me a call at 432-3393.  There is no cost, we have a lot of fun and make a real impact right here at home.”

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