story by Brittany Shepard | photos by Drew Chapman
The Wiregrass Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) was started in 1973 after the Wiregrass Mental Health Center offered a five-year grant to get an RSVP program started to bridge the gap between the aging population of Houston County and the needs of the community.
At the time, 13 percent of the county’s population was 60 years of age or older, and community leaders wanted to provide them an opportunity to connect for the betterment of their own lives and the community in which they lived.
As time marched on and the program continued to be successful, Henry and Geneva counties were added and any individual over the age of 55 could volunteer in any area they chose from as little as a few hours to as many as 40 hours each week.
The national RSVP Program is under the umbrella of The Corporation of National Services in Washington, D.C. and is federally funded by Congressional Order. The goals is to enlist retirees and senior individuals to fill in the gaps in the community where there is a need.
Dianne Marshburn, current program director of Wiregrass RSVP, has been involved with the organization for 22 years and has served in several capacities on the state and local level.
“RSVP affords Wiregrass seniors the opportunity to fill time, feel a sense of self-worth and purpose, meet new people and give back to the community,” said Dianne. “They realize that giving their time through Wiregrass RSVP allows them to feel like they are accomplishing something even in their senior and retired years.”
Wiregrass RSVP does not only benefit the seniors that give their time to volunteer, but it also benefits the agencies and organizations that choose to utilize senior volunteers. Organizations are able to save money using volunteers, and they also have the added benefit of well-experience volunteers that know how to work hard for a good cause.
“There are so many stories of how Wiregrass RSVP has helped senior volunteers and local organizations,” said Dianne.
One of her favorite stories is about a gentleman who had lost his wife of 40+ years. Through Wiregrass RSVP he was able to serve everyday in various areas of service.
“It was very fulfilling for him because he was able to give back and meet new people to add to his social life,” said Dianne.“ The organizations he volunteered with also fed him every day, so he always had a good meal among friends.”
Interview with Dianne Marshburn
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Houston, Henry and Geneva Counties exists to provide a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals, 55 and older, who are willing to share their time, experience, abilities and skills for the betterment of their community and themselves.
What services does Wiregrass RSVP provide to the community?
We offer a variety of services to different agencies and organizations throughout the Wiregrass area that include mentoring youth through the Houston County Juvenile Court Conference Committee; helping provide companionship, meals and transportation to seniors and the disabled; and working on special projects that address issues in the area of volunteerism and aging. We also work with Southeast Alabama Medical Center’s Healthy and Human Services, the Wiregrass Area United Way Food Bank, SARCOA, Wounded Warriors and many other local nonprofit agencies.
What impact does Wiregrass RSVP have on the volunteers?
Our program allows senior volunteers to engage in a diverse range of volunteer activities within the community. Evidence suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on social and physiological factors such as one’s sense of purpose. In turn, positive social and physiological factors are correlated with lower risk of physical health.
In its history, what impact has Wiregrass RSVP had on the communities it serves?
Due to the service of 600 senior volunteers over a five-year period, hundreds of thousands of hours have been contributed to individuals, families and area nonprofit organizations. Volunteers do not receive monetary incentives, but sponsoring organizations may reimburse them for cost including meals and transportation.
In your opinion, what is the most rewarding thing about being involved with Wiregrasss RSVP?
Working together to meet our community’s challenges and needs is truly rewarding. It is a wonderful thing to see the senior volunteers find purpose through meeting new people and helping local organizations. Equally wonderful is seeing the organizations benefit from the help the senior volunteers provide. Two sides win!
What is your organization’s need and what can our readers do to help?
We always need volunteers to assist with our current and future programs. They can get involved by calling our office at (334) 699-5086 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where can our readers go for more information?
They can call or email us or they can log on to our website at www.RSVPdothan.com to get more information.