January 3, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

By Bill Sedlacek
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program
of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

Bill Sedlacek
RSVPs Go-to Guy

A word from the RSVP Director: I hope you’ve enjoyed Bill’s interviews of interesting RSVP members. To me, some of the best parts of his articles are when he sprinkles his own wisdom and wry humor in. He starts his own story with a little wit about how I couldn’t think of anyone else for him to interview, which was sort-of true. However, Bill has volunteered in many interesting and valuable ways using the widely varied repertoire of skills he’s accumulated over the years. Like the 19th century farmer, Bill does it all. Actually, I could think of no more appropriate volunteer to highlight than Bill. He exemplifies how contributing skills and talents to service can make a senior’s life more interesting and enjoyable. With millions of Baby Boomers retiring each year, versatile volunteers like Bill represent a new American Gothic.
– Dave Layton

Dave Layton, the RSVP Director called the other day and said “Bill, I know that there are many fine RSVP folks out there that are unselfish with their time, hardworking and really deserve being recognized in 50+ Lifestyles magazine. But, I can’t come up with any of their names at the moment. Why don’t you just write about yourself instead?” Well, I found it hard to avoid the flattery of being mentioned in the same conversation as “Fine, Unselfish, Hardworking and Deserving,” so I said, “Yes, of course!”

I’m probably like others of you who retired too early, but could not resist the offer of extra cash if I left before full retirement age. “We thought it would be a picnic, didn’t we?” Well, I don’t know about you, but I found that the joy of not having to be somewhere at the same time every day soon faded. Then, I got a part-time job and found it very satisfying. But age reared its ugly head nine years later, and the aches and pains it brought made me realize I needed something less physically demanding.

Looking for something to do in addition to the house repair and improvement chores, I discovered the internet with all that information! Then I discovered the “Fact Checker” sites and wondered about all that “Information.” I became tired of e-mail with “FWD” in the subject. There are only so many pictures of cute puppies and kittens that one can take, and I seriously doubt that the signers of the Declaration of Independence all died under mysterious circumstances. I considered golf as a pastime, but in this climate it is somewhat seasonal. Besides, I could not understand the point of hitting a little ball with a big stick only to look for it and hit it again. If you want to get rid of it, why not just give it one good smack and leave it alone? The talkers on TV and radio who believe things are bad and will get worse unless you follow their political path did not seem worth my time, unless I needed my blood pressure raised.

So, that led me to volunteering, where I found much the same satisfaction that I felt when “Working for Wages” and completing a job that I knew I did well. Right now, I am not doing as much as I should, due to a recent episode of poor health, but I’m better now and will volunteer more and know I will feel better yet as I do more. The kinds of things are not important. What is important is doing something to help others. Usually, the volunteer work is at a non-profit agency that is constantly scrambling to get a mission done within a limited budget. The hours you put in as a volunteer helps them to better help others.

To potential volunteers, I offer this advice: “Don’t say you don’t want to work unless you are being paid.” If retired, you are already being paid for breathing. You will get far more from that pension and Social Security than you ever paid into it. If you are able, it’s time to give back. We are all in this together. Don’t give up if you don’t get an immediate assignment. I had to make three trips back to one agency that lost my application twice. In their defense, they were understaffed, and one of the things I did was help with volunteer records so applications would not be lost. RSVP staff are also good for helping to make sure RSVP members get placed.

Some of you without access to a mirror have said, “I don’t like to be around old people.” Some of the volunteer jobs helping them are the most satisfying. If you were in charge of people in your working life, forget that and be prepared to do whatever is needed. Jobs that you once assigned to others can be kind of fun, and the lack of workplace pressure that you once felt can be surprising refreshing.

To the agencies that utilize volunteers, I also offer some advice. We want to feel utilized. When I was working for wages, I appreciated the occasional down time to collect my thoughts. As a volunteer, I want to be busy. If you don’t have something for me, I can go home and pursue a hobby, visit the library or go home and give the wife tips on how to better run the house, and then be told to go visit the library. I have seen instances where the volunteer was idle, and the staff apparently thought they were doing them a favor. This is one way to lose a volunteer. I know you are busy, but view the volunteer as a resource that should be utilized in the most efficient way. It makes the volunteer feel better about their work and more willing to come back. RSVP also works with agencies to help them make sure volunteers are making a positive difference and being recognized for their work.

So, whether you are considering becoming a volunteer or you are a coordinator working with volunteers, RSVP is a valuable resource for you. Contact RSVP staff at (309) 793-4425 or email: rsvp@wiaaa.org.