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North Idaho seniors honored by White House for volunteer work | Community Spirit

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North Idaho seniors honored by White House for volunteer work
North Idaho seniors honored by White House for volunteer work

In the back corner of a north Idaho diner, a small but important group of people were quietly honored for their work. You may have seen them behind the counter at your local animal shelter or food bank, filing papers at the hospital or helping tutor students. They're the everyday heroes who help out through the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, or RSVP.

RSVP was founded in 1965 and later placed under the umbrella of Senior Corps by Congress in 1973. “Congress wanted to harness the experience and extraordinary work ethic of seniors who, at the time, were retiring at the age of 55,” said RSVP Director Bob Small. “So by starting this program they were able to tap into that wealth of knowledge and experience and get seniors to start helping by tutoring, working in food banks and virtually all non-profit agencies in our community.”

Thursday's banquet was to honor around 55 seniors who had served more than 500 hours, and over 10 others who had volunteered over 4,000. Each was presented with a presidential letter of thanks, a plaque to recognize their efforts and a Presidential Volunteer Service Award pin. Together, the group had volunteered 163,092 hours with a combined economic impact to the community of $2.6 million.

Director Small says that despite the impressive numbers, he's worried about the future of volunteers in north Idaho.

“We spend much of our efforts trying to get baby boomers involved, and it's touch because they have all these distractions like playing golf or going fishing and boating,” said Small. “They have so many other things to do and toys to play with it's going to be tough.” And, Small says, it's only going to get harder.

“It scares me to think the teenagers today in another 40 years, are they going to be willing to volunteer? They can't tweet kids in school to help them with their homework and their reading skills. It's something they have to sit and do one-on-one. That's my personal concern,” he said.

So how does he encourage new volunteers? Small says there are two major benefits that he says he shares with anyone who will listen. Number one is, volunteers can choose where they work.

“If they want to work with animals, we have volunteers who work at the Kootenai County Humane society. So they can pick and choose their area of interest and do that,” Small said. “But there's another reason. RSVP is targeted at those over the age of 55, and we point out the many health benefits of volunteering. Volunteer after volunteer will come back and say 'If it wasn't for volunteering, I wouldn't be here today; It's given me a reason to keep going, a reason go get up.' We recently received a copy of a study on volunteering over the age of 55, and compared to a group of non-volunteers and it was amazing. Everything from lower depression and anxiety, longevity, less aches and pains – it's amazing. You're never too old to volunteer.”

If you want to get involved with RSVP, contact the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho at (208) 667-3179.

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