By: Joshua Danker-Dake | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: December 2007
The RSVP staff helps seniors help the community. Pictured are Diana Askins, Gary Ann Tomkaiski, Jan Kelley, Claudia Meiling and Sherry Clark.
Since 1971, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, a nonprofit organization and United Way agency, has been committed to creating partnerships with nonprofit and public agencies, using the time and experience of the senior population. RSVP, as it is commonly called, matches the talents and passions of volunteers, ages 55 and over, in the Tulsa area with meaningful community efforts. RSVP currently has over 3,000 registered volunteers.
RSVP has a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for seniors. Something is available to accommodate most interests, passions and schedules. “We match people with the programs they would be most interested in,” says RSVP’s Gary Ann Tomkalski, coordinator of volunteer services. “We also manage volunteers for all kinds of special events; from big events like Mayfest to smaller events like book fairs. We also work with other nonprofit organizations like hospitals and schools. We partner with over 200 other agencies, and we recruit for them.”
Voices of Experience is a specialized group of RSVP volunteers with extensive business and nonprofit experience. The group provides individual consulting to area nonprofit and public agencies at no cost. Areas of specialization include human resources, information technology, marketing, fundraising and finance. Consultants have decades of business experience and work directly with the organizations to which they are assigned.
In RSVP’s Grandfriends program, volunteers visit early childhood classrooms weekly or monthly for several hours. The Grandfriends help children with their social and communication skills and assist teachers with classroom activities. Volunteers share with the children from their own interests and experiences. Activities can include reading stories, playing music and creating art.
Power Up!, offered to the community free of charge, is a program where seniors can learn computer and technical skills. “This is a great program because there’s so much information on the internet for seniors, including information on caregiving,” says Sherry Clark, director of programs. “It can be a big challenge for seniors if they don’t have computer skills. And Power Up! is great for seniors who are confined to their homes.” Additionally, RSVP has a Power Up! Plus program, which, in collaboration with Redemption Ministries and Williams companies, teaches job skills to reintegrating ex-offenders.
Some seniors choose to take part in the Airport Ambassadors program. As friendly greeters at three locations at the Tulsa Airport, these volunteers provide people arriving with information on the airport and the Tulsa area. “This is a great position for people who really love their community and who are passionate about the Greater Tulsa area,” says Jan Kelley, RSVP’s assistant director.
Court Watch, a collaborative program with Domestic Violence Intervention Services, allows volunteers to observe and document court cases concerning domestic violence. Court Watch aims to improve law enforcement and judicial coordination. The ultimate goal is to make the community safer.
Both Bear Care and Knittin’ Kittens were developed as spin-offs of Court Watch. Bear Care brings attention to the needs and issues of children of domestic violence households. Volunteers make teddy bears for children. In the last five years, Bear Care has distributed approximately 4,000 bears across the community. Knittin’ Kittens volunteers knit and crochet for the needy. Handmade items include scarves, baby blankets, caps for people undergoing chemotherapy, as well as items for premature babies. Every year, Knittin’ Kittens adopts an elementary school. This year, it is Marshall Elementary School in Tulsa.
RSVP also has bulk projects, where nonprofit organizations send out projects for volunteers to put together. Whether stuffing envelopes, labeling and sorting mail or putting information packets together, volunteers can help out a variety of nonprofit organizations.
RSVP has opportunities for most everyone. “We’re a one-stop shop for volunteering,” says Kelley. “And we’re always looking for volunteers.” If you are 55 or older and are interested in making a positive impact on the community, call RSVP at (918) 280-8656. Information about the dozens of volunteer opportunities can also be found online at www.rsvptulsa.org.