Walla Walla RSVP volunteers are busier than ever

And they aren't necessarily retired, director Peggy Needham says.

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Peggy Needham, a longtime advocate for seniors, has begun working as the director of Walla Walla RSVP at The Center at the Park, 720 Sprague Ave. Needham comes to the organization with recent experience as the fall prevention coordinator for the city of Walla Walla and 20 years in social services.

"I enjoy working with older adults," she said. "There's so much you can learn."

Walla Walla RSVP is a local branch of a national program, part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, operating with federal funding.

Service priorities have been identified as education, healthy futures, clean energy and the environment, veterans and economic opportunity.

Focusing on those priorities, the local office is very busy in regard to both recipients and volunteers. According to Needham, 2009 statistics for the local RSVP shows 84 active stations. From January through December 2009, 524 volunteers logged in 90,090 hours.

The organization facilitates the matching of volunteers to needs in the community.

As the communities change, organizations need to change as well, and RSVP is no exception, Needham said. The agency no longer focuses on retirees as it once did. "RSVP is changing because the dynamics of seniors are changing," Needham said. "People are working longer, but still wanting to help." In addition to older adults remaining in the workplace longer, work schedules are more flexible now than they used to be, so volunteer schedules need that flexibility as well.

"We want to fit those variable needs with our program. Some people love a fixed schedule, and others need a very open schedule. RSVP has to transition with the times. I hope to be able to succeed in moving it forward," she said.

Part of the change includes more involvement from the community with a new advisory council. Informing people about RSVP's services is a priority.

According to Needham, RSVP is well known by those already in the system, but the community at large doesn't necessarily know about the organization. "We need to educate and get the word out and let them know what services are available," Needham said.

"Our volunteers are a part of a huge movement in the nation for service, not just local. You multiply everyone in the state and the nation, there's a lot of people getting things done," she added.

Needham suggested letting experience lead, because older volunteers have the knowledge needed to fill the gaps in the communities. The focus on healthy futures includes preventing falls, a component that is essential for older people.

Everyone has knowledge and talents they can share, Needham said. Volunteers are actively being recruited. "We need people willing to be a part of that process. Volunteers are leaders out there making things happen. A lot of people have a ton of experience - all we could ask for. We want to expand our programs and see what's going to be out there in the future."

RSVP's top station, according to volunteer hours used, is Walla Walla General Hospital, with 12,000 volunteer hours logged last year. Needham also said that Project Warm Up is always very popular. Plenty of volunteers knit hats and mittens each year for those who need them.

Everyone wins with the accomplishments and dedication of those involved with RSVP, Needham said. "One hour can make a huge difference or impact in somebody's life. When you give to a child, see a senior in a nursing home, work through health-insurance forms with someone, or get groceries for someone so they are able to stay in their home, it's rewarding," she said.

To find out more, call 509-527-3775.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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