Carol O’Neill, RSVP in Action

Since its inception 30 years ago in Monroe County, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program has received financial support through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Services. CNCS is a federal agency whose mission is “to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” This is accomplished through Americorps and through Senior Corps. Under the Senior Corps umbrella, RSVP is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and older.

The RSVP Advisory Council was formed to meet CNCS grant requirements under the first RSVP Director, Norma Fagan, who served from its inception until 2010. The RSVP Advisory Council serves as a community network for the RSVP program and helps guide RSVP toward its mission. Expanding RSVP programs and volunteer recruitment their own contacts in the area, and using their own skill sets, the advisory council helps to promote RSVP and makes recommendations on certain matters. RSVP Director Merle Turitz explained that the council is comprised by members of stations served and the volunteers who participate in those areas.

“A station is anywhere we place volunteers,” Merle said. “We have about 90 stations. A selection of those are on the council and 16 can vote.”

Council members can serve two three-year terms and then are required to take a one-year reprieve. “The advisory council is a great resource for the RSVP program because they provide extensive networking abilities in Monroe and also can offer greater insight into the needs of the community. They are truly the ambassadors of the program,” Merle said. “How do we grow and stay relevant? They are the eyes and ears in the community. It is through their networks and contacts that RSVP is able to develop new stations and recruit new volunteers.”

Not only do advisory members spread the word about RSVP, they also represent RSVP at community fairs and exhibitions. Every fall, when RSVP holds its annual volunteer recognition luncheon, advisory members bring in gift baskets for the raffle, sell tickets and greet people. “They are there to work,” Merle said. “They are there to serve the volunteers.”

New RSVP Advisory Council President Emily Daly has been serving six years in an advisory capacity. Having volunteered as a friendly visitor and with Head Start, Emily shared, “RSVP does so much good in so many places. It is hard to imagine our community without it.”

Commenting on her experience as a friendly visitor, Emily said, “I volunteered reluctantly but ended up developing a real bond with this individual. I looked forward to our weekly visits as much as she did. It was rewarding and meaningful to both of us.”

Serving on the council for about six years, Nora Goodwin is RSVP Education Coordinator, placing tutors in Monroe County elementary schools. She also manages the interactive storytelling program at Head Start in East Stroudsburg and hopes to find volunteers for Head Start’s Tobyhanna site. Of the advisory council, Nora said, “The council is hard working and dedicated. They care about RSVP and making it work. They are very community minded.”

Of RSVP, Nora said,” It provides a number of services that help not only the elderly, but many organizations, people and institutions in the Monroe County area. Seniors, themselves, benefit from the program by feeling validated by the work they are doing.”

Because of her 45-year role as an educator in the New York City school system, advisory council member and volunteer Norma Krasne-Levine was first recruited to serve as RSVP Education Coordinator for RSVP in 2006. (Incidentally, it was also through Norma that Merle Turitz was originally recruited as an RSVP volunteer in 2007, then hired as an assistant in 2008.)

On the council, Norma now represents Operation Chillout Homeless Veterans Outreach, a project with which she and her husband, Steven, volunteer. Norma is also a Merry Mat Maker, crocheting mats from recycled plastic grocery bags and distributing them to the homeless. Norma wears many hats through the RSVP program. She enjoys participating in Share Your Career Day at East Stroudsburg High School South, giving valuable information to future teachers and uses her teaching skills with the Senior Medicare Patrol, educating audiences about Medicare fraud.

In his second year on the RSVP Advisory Council, Charlie Cahn said, “The council is loaded with some very fine people who are quite attuned to serving and giving back to our local community.” Among his many commitments, Charlie serves on the Developmental Education Services – Community Partners in Recycling management team and is involved with the DES-CPR program that has served many elderly people. Charlie added, “Merle Turitz is an excellent director. She has a positive attitude which makes this organization function very well to make our world a better place.”

Oscar Lollis just started his 11th year on the council. In addition, he is a past president and now vice president of the local National Active and Retired Federal Employees Chapter, past president and now on the executive council of the local Association of the U.S. Army, and past president and active member of the local AARP Chapter. As an ambassador for RSVP, Oscar has made presentations to each of these organizations and has sold several annual RSVP Volunteer Luncheon Booklets advertising as a result. Oscar said of RSVP, “I fully support efforts to make the community more aware of the services available to those who can possibly remain in their homes if they can take advantage of the assistance that may be provided.”

State Rep. Rosemary Brown’s (R-189) role on the advisory council is to offer suggestions and provide information that may be helpful in deciding how to best serve our seniors in Monroe County. As a state representative, Brown hears often from senior residents about their needs and what they would like to see in their community and state. Being involved with RSVP and its services, Brown is able to connect people who want to help with people who need the help. In addition to being on the council, Brown co-hosts the Share Your Career Day events that take place at East Stroudsburg High School South each spring. “RSVP and I have worked together to connect generations as well with career development, which has been extremely enjoyable for both our seniors and youth,” Brown said.

A new member on the advisory council, Alicia MacKenzie represents Northampton Community College, Monroe Campus. Merle noted that RSVP has volunteer tutors participating at NCC. “Having Alicia on the council allows us to continue our relationship with NCC. They are a wonderful community partner.”

Another new addition, Dr. John Chang teaches psychology at East Stroudsburg University and specializes in geriatric issues. When RSVP hosts its Loneliness Epidemic Conference at NCC in March, Chang will be one of the key speakers.

To learn more about RSVP and volunteer opportunities in Monroe County, please call 570-420-3747.