AmeriCorps RSVP Matches Volunteers to Local Organizations

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The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) matches community members with nonprofits that align with their strengths

RSVP Program
Reality Ministries offers adults with and without developmental disabilities, like Hunter Barbour, Bob Leslie, Charles Markham and Dr. Barbara A. Smith, to participate in activities together. 

By Elizabeth Kane | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Volunteers are community heroes. Connecting those heroes to where their time and energy is needed most are people like Sydney Schamay, the AmeriCorps Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) manager in Durham. 

“We are essentially a free service [that’s offered] both to volunteers and [to the] community partner agencies – which includes the American Red Cross, Crayons2Calculators, Reinvestment Partners and the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, to name a few – that we work with,” Sydney says. “We have formal partnerships with them and they submit to us … their most current, most pressing volunteer needs. Then we act as a connector between those interested volunteers who generally know they want to volunteer, but don’t know exactly where they want to be put.”

In order to find the right match, “we have a one-on-one conversation about [the potential volunteer’s] interests, skill sets and life experience,” Sydney says. She explains that once the folks at RSVP understand what potential volunteers are looking for, they offer a sampling of different opportunities that might be a good fit. “There’s something for everyone,” Sydney says. “We really try to do the legwork of thinking through exactly what would be a good match.”

Volunteer Susan Ragan has worked with the same middle schooler since mid-March, tutoring her in reading, spelling, vocabulary and writing skills.

Susan Ragan, who volunteers with the Augustine Literacy Project of the Triangle through the Durham Public Schools Foundation, is a retired high school teacher who taught math and computer science in Ohio and Maryland. Her work involves helping students improve their literacy skills and feel confident about their abilities. 

“Reading is so essential,” Susan says. “I’ve worked with my own grandchildren, and I just felt like that was something that I could use my teaching skills to do and help a child.”

Susan says the RSVP program understood what her strengths were and paired her with opportunities that she cared about. “It’s nice to have a guide who takes you through that,” she says. “… You don’t have to worry about all those steps, and that way you can get the help to the people who need it.” 

Susan explains the significance of her volunteering with the kids she teaches: “It’s providing free tutoring for families who couldn’t pay for it,” Susan says. “It’s reaching a population that has the most difficult time finding help. [E]very step in the education process is so important. And being able to give help to people who are not going to be able to financially pay for it is going to pay for itself in so many ways – not only for the child, but for society in general and having a well-educated workforce.” 

RSVP Program
Bob Austin unloads boxes of food at Meals on Wheels Durham. 

Bob Austin, who works for telecom company Avaya in Research Triangle Park, volunteers his time with Meals on Wheels Durham alongside a committed group of people. “My role is pretty basic and pretty simple – just unload the truck,” Bob says. “Every Monday, a truck filled with … boxes and boxes of food [comes in], and a group of us unloads it into people’s cars.” 

Bob prefers that his volunteer work starts before his day job. “I like the physicality of it,” he says. “The Monday morning side of it – start the week off right. It’s an easy, nice job to get your heart rate up, and get in a little exercise on a Monday morning.” 

He says that – though he doesn’t consider himself a senior, and he isn’t retired – he feels he got lucky in his match with the Meals on Wheels program, and he encourages potential volunteers to find a match where they fit best, even if it takes a couple of tries. “The RSVP program offers lots of other opportunities to find something else [if the first volunteer match doesn’t work],” Bob says. “So don’t be afraid to jump in.” 

RSVP Program
Barbara A. Smith and Fhaylen Cockrell feed a horse at The Glen, a 10-acre farm that partners with Reality Ministries.

Dr. Barbara A. Smith, a retired educator and sports coach, now gives her time to Reality Ministries, which offers opportunities for adults with and without developmental disabilities to engage in activities together and build friendships with one another. She found Reality Ministries through the RSVP program. “They match you perfectly with your heart’s desires, and that was great for me,” Barbara says. She got involved with the nonprofit’s Tuesday Morning Mingle Group and gospel choir. “Reality Ministries is a place where everybody is somebody, and everybody makes you feel like somebody because of the love of God being shared so freely,” Barbara says. 

She strongly encourages people to engage in the AmeriCorps RSVP program because, she says, it will enhance your life. 

“The [RSVP] program is geared toward you not hanging up your shoes and saying, ‘I’m retired’ for good,” Barbara says. “No! Take the shoes down! Get out there, participate, get matched with your right experience. Give – just keep giving. 

“There’s somebody out there that needs to hear a kind word, or see a smile, or [receive] a pat on the back or a high-five, or something, just from you.” 

For Barbara, the experience is both rejuvenating and meaningful. 

“What you give out will come back to you,” she says. “[Volunteering] just gives you more reasons to live. [You’ll remember], ‘Someone’s waiting for me today, I’ve got to go volunteer.’ Nothing beats volunteering – nothing.” 

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