March 31, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

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

Dave Layton:
A Little April Foolery Along with Serious Work

I was a little nervous before my interview with Dave Layton, the RSVP director. I had been to the RSVP office before, but had not seen Dave’s office. I pictured an intimidating corner office, richly appointed with a magnificant view of the Rock Island skyline. I briefly considered a sports jacket with my best 1970’s tie for such a setting, but I settled on a newer pair of jeans and an open collar shirt.

Walking into his office, I was not out of place. It was nearly as large as my wife’s walk-in closet, with furnishings apparently from some second hand store and a dented gray metal file cabinet which practically shouted “Finest Quality U.S. Government Surplus.” His window offered an impressive and unrestricted view of the side street, with trucks and buses regularly rumbling by. Swallowing hard to hide my intimidation with such surroundings, I began the interview by asking why he was wearing a Christmas hat in March. “Delivering donated Christmas presents to homebound seniors is my favorite volunteer activity,” he said. “Seeing the lovely snow fall made me wistful for Christmas, so I’m wearing the hat because I wish there were more holidays for which we could do the same, adding with a smile that it would be nice to do it in warmer weather.”

Dave has two grown sons and lives with his wife in Clinton, Iowa. One son has followed in his father’s footsteps and works for AmeriCorps, part of the same National Service umbrella as RSVP. The other son is a construction foreman. Dave has a long history with nonprofit organizations, and besides his paid involvement, has contributed many more hours as an unpaid volunteer. He has been with RSVP since 1998 and was previously the Physical Director at the Clinton YWCA. His volunteering history includes the Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, and Bi-State literacy programs. He also hosts concerts at one Clinton nursing home, where a friend with Multiple Sclerosis has lived and will continue to live for many years. He plays piano, bass and saxophone in what he describes as three “semi-professional” bands that provide entertainment in the form of Pop Rock, Indie Rock – Blues and Blue Grass music. But, as he said, “Enough of me, I want to get the RSVP message out”

RSVP, a program of Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging, also reaches out to Knox and Warren Counties in Illinois and Scott County in Iowa. With about 1,100 active members, RSVP members reported 120,000 volunteer hours last year to over 140 non-profit area agencies. An independent Private Sector Estimate has established $19 as the value of a volunteer hour. Using this $19 per hour, the 120,000 hours infuses $2,280,000 worth of seasoned senior knowledge and wisdom into the community yearly. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for a RSVP staff of six people.

The range of activities RSVP volunteers perform can be described as “Life Cycle Care.” Recipients of RSVP volunteer support begin before birth, with prenatal counseling and nutrition and continuing through life’s challenges on to hospice assistance. Volunteers range in age from 55 to 102. One volunteer, Blanche Bohatka, has volunteered with RSVP since its start 40 years ago and is still active at 97. RSVP will celebrate Blanche’s service, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2013 and 2014. I kind of think that keeping busy as a volunteer may have helped Blanche’s longevity.

If you can volunteer a little or a lot, you are welcome at RSVP. Besides the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping others, as an RSVP volunteer you are provided supplemental liability insurance while volunteering, training for certain jobs such as tutoring and mentoring, placement in hundreds of different jobs, and invitation to fun recognition events. This year’s RSVP Recognition will be three events in May, National Older American Month, during the Senior Corps week May 6 – 10. Two events will be luncheons at the Milan Community Center on May 7 and the Fountains in Bettendorf on May 8. They’ll feature great food and entertainment. The third event will be a celebration at the 1st Street Armory in Monmouth, Illinois on May 10. Call the Quad-City office at (309) 793-4425 for more information about the two Quad-City events and call Amy at (309) 428-5841 for information about the Monmouth event.

A current priority need RSVP is addressing is the need for tutors and mentors in schools and afterschool programs. Training is provided for this service. Another priority that volunteers receive training for is the Volunteer Registration Center (VRC), focusing on disaster assistance. The VRC currently has 20 volunteers and could use 20 more. The VRC works with Rock Island County Emergency Management Agency and other disaster service organizations to interview, process and clear volunteers in the event of a disaster. The February 2013 issue of this magazine addressed the VRC and Chester and Debi Brees involvement with it.

“We’re all in this life together,” Chester and Debi Brees said in the February interview, and Dave concurs. He says this is the best job he’s ever had, and that’s because of the great volunteers he gets to work with. It’s a good thing he loves this work, because there’s plenty of it. The community will always need more volunteers, and he hopes this interview will inspire folks to join.

One additional bit of food for thought is: It’s been shown that volunteering helps people to live longer, and more women volunteer than men. “There are also more older women than men. Do you suppose that the volunteering women do has anything to do with them living longer than us men?” Think about it, and if you have any thoughts you want to share on it, call Dave at (309) 793-4425 or email him at and be sure to have him send you a volunteer application. You don’t have to be retired, just 55 or older to join RSVP.