Happy birthday, RSVP
by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD OMEN THAT I WAS laughing before I had crossed Martha Likins' threshold. It was a comical entrance -- me bending over to greet a whirling ball of fluff, an appealing little Shih Tzu named "XoXo," while trying to say hello to my host. Likins smiled broadly, "Now you know why I asked you if you liked dogs."
But as soon as the door was closed and I was ushered into the kitchen, that tiny ball of enthusiasm parked at my feet, interested but not obnoxious, friendly but not overbearing. Clearly well-trained, XoXo needed only hear "down" and down it plopped -- if something that weighs no more than a bag of feathers can plop.
Taking in my surroundings, I began to get a feel for this warm, comfortable woman. There was an intriguing metal sculpture in the living room. On the kitchen table a couple of small cow figurines caught my eye. Miniatures from an exhibit I had seen in Chicago a few years ago, Likins had received them as gifts. One was clothed in an outlandish outfit, resplendent in polka dots. The other was a Las Vegas "show cow," decked out in pink feathers and striking a pose that defied gravity. An antique teapot sat on the stove, comic strips were attached to the fridge. It was evident that Likins had a real zest for living.
I had arrived in Likins' kitchen thanks to Pam Zeutenhorst, project manager for the Volunteer Center of the Redwoods, home of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. Currently celebrating its 30th year on the North Coast, RSVP has approximately 900 volunteers, 55 years and older, who provide much needed services throughout Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
Likins is an enthusiastic representative of this priceless group of volunteers. Although she has been slowed down somewhat by arthritis, her commitment, intelligence and wit move along at a strong and steady clip. It seems as though volunteerism has always been a big part of her life. Though Likins logged 50 years in various health care settings, she has always been active in different community causes.
But when it came time to join RSVP, her one request was "nothing in health care," Likins told me, laughing. It was time for something different. Likins joined RSVP's "Drop of a Hat Brigade," a group of on-call volunteers who are available to help a service agency get its work done. She's worked for the Humboldt Area Foundation, where she met "wonderful people," and she's assisted at CASA of Humboldt County, a legal support group for abused and neglected children. Most recently, Likins has been helping out at Consumer Credit Counseling Services, an agency Likins "really appreciates" for working with people to get them out of debt.
This year, 200 "Drop of a Hat" volunteers have worked at 48 agency events. Think about how that time translates into money saved. In these fiscally tight times, the value is even more significant.
Other RSVP programs reach very different areas of the community. The Intergenerational Visiting and You program (IVY) matches homebound elders and their caregivers with trained teenagers, senior citizens and other adults. Through the RSVP school programs, volunteers help in the classroom and school libraries; give presentations on career building and enrichment topics; and participate in the Pen Pal program, which links a fifth- or sixth-grade child with a senior through a correspondence relationship. (This approach not only improves the child's writing skills but also allows the development of a connection with an older person.)
Listen to Likins talk about RSVP for a while and it's obvious what nonprofit agencies and schools get from the countless hours the RSVP volunteers donate. By freeing up staff time, services increase and more clients can be served. Equally important, the volunteers have been called "ambassadors of goodwill" because of their profound impact on the agencies they assist.
So, what does Likins get from her contributions? Plenty! "It [volunteering] gets me up, it gets me out, visiting with others. And I know if, in any way, I can help to ease an agency's financial burden, well, that's a great feeling."
She stressed just how easy RSVP makes it for anyone interested in volunteering. "A project manager from RSVP came to my home and explained how the process worked, the commitment RSVP had to its volunteers and the agencies they serve. Then, all of the possible programs were described. But what I think was very important and something prospective volunteers should know was that the manager really wanted to know my interests. I do have a physical limitation and I really did want to experience something other than health care." The initial interview was thorough and honest. RSVP staff then made sure that Likins was properly linked to her first agency, an approach that has resulted in big payoffs for both Likins and the agencies she serves.
Which is, of course, is the real beauty of both RSVP and its volunteers -- age and experience that result in direct value to the community. My thanks to Martha Likins and all of the many volunteers who do so much to enhance the quality of life here on the North Coast. Happy Birthday to RSVP!
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.