August 27, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

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

Elaine Woods – a Life of Meaningful Service

Elaine Woods readily admits to being born with a “Gift of gab” and being “Auntsy.” “Auntsy” she says, refers to her role as an aunt, her restless spirit and the enthusiasm she feels when looking forward to the next opportunity that life has to offer.

Her volunteering began as a Girl Scout leader while she was still in her teens and continued during a 20 year career as an aircraft scheduler in the Air Force. Now that she is retired and has a degree in Elementary Education, Elaine is making the most of the opportunity she has to help children.

After being widowed in 2008, she came to Davenport to be close to her brother and his children. She has a large family with seven brothers and sisters, who have given her 43 nieces and nephews (counting grand and great grand) and a big role as an aunt and friend to all of them. At first I considered that this must be a daunting, if not impossible, task for her. After our half hour talk, I left convinced that she does have that remarkable amount of energy and devotion to be an understanding “Auntsy” to all of them. Although he is technically not a nephew, she has a great deal of affection for “Jack,” her brother’s Jack Russell and Miniature Pincher mix. She asked me to mention him and said that being part Jack Russell, he is the only one seemingly immune to her mentoring, stealth or otherwise.

Perhaps because of her Air Force career, she refers to her mentoring as “Stealth” mentoring. To her, this means she plays games with them, listens to them and takes them out for fun things. During these interactions, she can influence them and subtly provide guidance for which she may see a need. Hopefully, none of her nieces read 50 Plus Lifestyles and figure out what is really happening. If so, I’m sure they would still stay around for the fun and to be with Aunt Elaine.

Her volunteering in her Air Force career was making and selling baked goods for her squadron. The proceeds went to provide those extra things that the service may not provide. In one of these events, she was rewarded with a trip to Hong Kong for her efforts. She was posted all over the world, with her favorite place being Fairbanks Alaska. She somewhat jokingly says she envisions returning to Alaska one day and living in the wild as a Grizzly “Adamette.”

In addition to her own family, she works with children in the Davenport school system, helping children with reading and being a STAARS Mentor during the school year and in the summer programs. She is also involved the adult GED program at Scott Community College where she helps the candidates gain the knowledge they need to pass the test. One very perceptive thing she said was that every grade school child she can influence now may be one less that will drop out and later need help in the GED process.

Elaine came to RSVP with a strong desire to volunteer, but she was not connecting with meaningful opportunities until she began working with RSVP staff. She also volunteers as a driver, taking those who need transportation to medical appointments, and she is trained as a Matter of Balance Coach.

If you would like help connecting with meaningful opportunities like Elaine, call RSVP at (309) 793-4425 or email