February 26, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

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

RSVP’s Julie Ross: Making Education a Priority

When asked to come to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) office to interview Julie Ross, I said “Sure, I’ll be there.” Although, I had never been to the office, I told the nice lady on the phone that I did not need the directions she offered. I could always use my GPS in the extremely unlikely event that my unerring ability to navigate city streets failed. Just like a guy, right?

I forgot that driving straight to any address in Rock Island is a challenge. Both 7th Street and 34th Avenue, like a lot of others “over there,” don’t seem to have been laid out in any logical manner, but dead end and jog off in one direction or another without warning at irritatingly irregular places.

I did make it almost on time anyway and walked into the busy hum of activity that is the RSVP office, only 45 minutes after leaving Eldridge for what should have been a 20-minute drive.

I learned that Julie, who has lived here since 1994, has two daughters who are seniors, one at Grinnell College and one at Davenport Central High, and a husband, Jim, with the Rock Island Corps of Engineers. With her girls older now, she is returning to full-time work as the Education Program Coordinator at RSVP.

I must tell you, I am always impressed by the passion to help and dedication (It’s more than a job to them) of these non-profit, social agency folks. It soon became apparent during the interview that Julie was another one of these and will make an important contribution to the RSVP mission and the community as a whole.

She brings a wealth of experience and an impressive educational background to the mission of the RSVP Education Program coordinator. From 1980 to 1987, she worked with the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) in Dallas, Texas, working at a Montessori school for poverty-level children in the inner city. In 1987, she returned to college, earning a Master’s in Anthropology from Southern Illinois University.

After that, she became a full-time mom and wife and part-time worker and volunteer. The list of volunteer programs in which she was involved is very long. A few included the Center for Living Arts, a studio theater in Rock Island; Fair Trade efforts, which help to ensure that coffee growers get a fair share of the coffee bean profits and follow sound ecological practices; Centro Maya Project, providing humanitarian, educational, and medical assistance to indigenous Mayan families in Guatemala; and of course, the wide range of volunteer activities “offered” to all parents of school-age children.

In her new job, she will be tasked to strengthen and improve the RSVP effort in community education both for school-age children and adults. She says she will strive to “harness the energy of seniors to enable them to pass their wisdom and knowledge to the younger generations.” The enhanced emphasis on education by RSVP will focus on supporting both childhood and adult programs throughout the Quad-Cities. Beginning with pre-school programs, they will recruit and train mentoring and tutoring volunteers to all levels of school-age children. RSVP volunteers will also work with individuals needing help studying for a GED, provide English classes to the newly-arrived to our country, and work with those needing help furthering their education and achieving their full potential by partnering with organizations such as World Relief, Casa Guanajuato and Scott Community and Black Hawk Colleges. As Julie says, “Education is the solution to many of our country’s problems.”

RSVP cannot meet their education goals alone, but intends to partner with other organizations, both churches and secular institutions. There are already programs that involve churches running after-school programs with RSVP members. There will be a serious effort by RSVP to recruit other volunteers and partners. The program will also be reaching out to college through a new partnership with Western Illinois University.

It’s an admirable effort to which RSVP intends to devote at least 25 percent of their total resources, while keeping up with their other programs. Needless to say, a number of senior volunteers are needed. You don’t need a degree in teaching or even a degree to participate. Just bring your life experience and wisdom and hop on board. Don’t kid yourself that you don’t have what is needed – you do. You’ll receive the training you need to succeed. Your community needs you and what you have to offer. As one of Julie’s favorite quotes goes, “Service is the rent we pay for being.”

To learn more about other educational volunteer opportunities, please call Julie Ross at the RSVP office, phone: (309) 793-4425, or send your e-mail to: rsvp@wiaaa.org.