Celebrate National Senior Corps Week

Many of you may be asking, “Who is Senior Corps?” I will happily explain to you who they are, what they do, and where they are. First and foremost, Senior Corps are volunteers. They are the greatest people I know – they are all over the age of 55 years and possess a lifetime of wisdom, knowledge, and experience and are problem solvers. These wise and wonderful individuals over the age of 55 years are committed to community service by volunteering through Senior Corps. You just don’t know where you might find a Senior Corps volunteer – one might be right in your neighborhood, church, or school.

You ask, “What is Senior Corps?” Senior Corps is a federal program governed by the Corporation for National and Community Service who manages, funds, and guides projects all across the United States and Puerto Rico. So, Senior Corps is the vehicle to organize projects to engage all these wise and wonderful individuals and place them where their skills, talents and acquired wisdom can make a difference in our community. The CNCS governs three major streams of service: AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Social Innovation Funds. In our region, we are blessed to have two Senior Corps projects – Chautauqua County RSVP and Lutheran Foster Grandparent Program. The third program completing Senior Corps is the Senior Companion Program. The two projects in our area, FGP and RSVP, bring over a quarter-million federal dollars into our area. These federal funds are matched with state and local dollars – bringing additional monies into our area that is invested and spent locally. Both projects are fortunate to have an insightful and benevolent sponsor – Lutheran. RSVP began nationally in 1971 and in Chautauqua County since 1973. Lutheran has been its sponsor since 1975. FGP began nationally in 1965, beginning sponsorship at Lutheran in 1983.

The mission of Senior Corps is “to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” Simply stated, FGP and RSVP are engaging mature adults to address the needs of our community through their dedicated service at nonprofit, educational, or governmental agencies. Senior Corps volunteers are provided with supplemental insurance while they volunteer, travel assistance when funding permits, are advocated for, and recognized personally and publicly.

Chautauqua County RSVP Senior Corps volunteers serve in Chautauqua County at approximately 90 volunteer sites. Each site has a completed, signed Memorandum of Understanding detailing volunteer placements, expectations, and limitations. The Serve America Act, commonly known as Kennedy Serve America Act has re-directed the CNCS in regards to volunteer activity and placement of RSVP volunteers. RSVP projects now focus volunteer assignments within more defined areas of service as dictated within the Serve America Act. Emphasis is now given on: education, healthy futures, environmental stewardship, veterans, economic opportunity, and Disaster Preparedness. In Chautauqua County the majority of volunteer effort is focused on Healthy Futures – Food Distribution – serving those “in-need” at our three soup kitchens, 12 food pantries, two Meals on Wheels agencies and congregate meal sites. RSVP volunteers also lend a hand to the disabled and frail elderly so they may remain living independently in their own homes. Children “in-need” are given hats, mittens, scarves, blankets, slippers, dolls, or whatever can be handmade by our volunteers, all in hopes to help. Children are tutored in schools or mentoring centers by RSVP volunteers too. Volunteers enrich the lives of those they serve while reaping the benefits offered by civic engagement. RSVP volunteers are productive, socially engaged and live a purposeful life.

Lutheran FGP Senior Corps serves the three counties of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany. The majority of FGP volunteers serve in Chautauqua as this is the most populated and possesses a public transportation system. All Foster Grandparent are cleared using the National Sex Offender Registry and criminal background checks are processed as directed by CNCS. Foster Grandparents are placed in the focus area of education with emphasis on kindergarten through sixth grade, and school readiness in programs such as pre-kindergartens or Head Start projects. FGP volunteers are required to serve 15 hours per week. This commitment assures regular and consistent nurturing between the Foster Grandparent and their assigned child. Volunteers may serve up to 40 hours per week if they desire. Each Foster Grandparent is assigned to work with a minimum of three students as identified by their teacher or site supervisor. Each Foster Grandparent has a comprehensive Assignment Plan/Job Description to follow. If an individual is income eligible, they may earn a tax-free hourly stipend for their service. FGP volunteers are of modest income, which is 200 percent of the poverty level before medical deductions. An individual may earn $22,340 annually or a couple may earn $30,260 – all before applicable deductions.

Senior Corps volunteers served 136,212 hours during calendar year 2012. Just think what an impact they make each and every day in our community. If you click on it will tell you, in New York state is one hour of volunteer service is worth $27.17 according to their calculations. This estimate is the most recent and it is reflective of 2009. So if I figure correctly, Senior Corps volunteers contribute over $3,700,880 in service to our region. This is incredible and we all benefit.

If you see someone with a blue RSVP lanyard or red FGP lanyard, please stop and thank them, especially during their special week, for all they do to make our community better. Maybe you might want to join the ranks of Senior Corps? If you would like more information, please call Gwen Gatewood, FGP Volunteer Coordinator at 665-5343 or Brenda Weiler, RSVP Project Coordinator at 665-3038.