THE WEEKLY - No rest for RSVP volunteers

The local volunteer agency is raising awareness amid funding cutbacks.

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Walla Walla's RSVP, like many community assistance programs nationwide, is feeling an economic pinch.

But it continues to count on its legions of volunteers with varied expertise and affiliated organizations to meet the needs of people in the community, and is always looking for more.

The local RSVP -- short for Retired Senior Volunteer Program -- operates out of an office at The Center at the Park, 720 Sprague Ave., to connect area volunteers with organizations needing help.

It's part of a national program, the Corporation for National and Community Service, operating with federal funding and some state support.

"We are fortunate to have state support ... to offset cuts at the federal level," said RSVP Director Peggy Needham.

Service priorities target education, health, clean energy and the environment, economic opportunity and veterans.

But the new, more austere economy is forcing RSVP to shuffle resources to do more with less due to an expected cut in the $61,745 federal funding it received this year.

"We're looking at about a 20 percent budget cut, 12 months of funding and having to make it stretch for 15 months," she said. "It's hard when you have to piecemeal things together."

She is now working to increase awareness of RSVP and just how many people's lives they touch.

Many businesses and organizations benefit from thousands of volunteer hours -- 90,000 hours from people 55 years and older alone, Needham said. Military veterans also comprise a large chunk of the volunteer forces.

But according to Needham, there's a disconnect because the volunteers aren't readily identified with RSVP but rather with the organization where they volunteer. She recently has been making presentations to United Way and Rotary groups, illustrating RSVP's mission and services it offers, both for the organizations it helps and the benefits volunteers gain.

"I want to show how we make an impact. When you look at St. Mary, or look at the General Hospital, these people delivering flowers, delivering meds, doing records, working in the gift shop, those are RSVP volunteers."

For someone who wants to volunteer and doesn't know where to start, or for an organization that needs some help, RSVP also provides placement and volunteer opportunities.

Needham currently is working on more partnerships with other agencies and organizations. One such partnership that has made an impact is the Prescription Take Back Day. RSVP partnered with local law enforcement agencies to provide a way to get unwanted prescriptions out of medicine cabinets and disposed properly. The first Take Back Day removed 102 pounds of drugs in four hours.

Thursday grocery shopping at Walla Walla's Harvest Foods has also helped many locals.

"I have 46 clients that are able to stay in their homes because volunteers with RSVP help them with the grocery shopping," Needham said.

RSVP also has a priority of mentoring veterans just returning home. They often find volunteer positions in emergency management and working with other veterans.

"Twenty percent of our volunteers are veterans, they gave 8,000 hours," Needham said.

RSVP can help people interested in volunteer work the right match for their interests and talents. As the local clearing house for many volunteer opportunities, the organization matches needs in the community with volunteers' skills. The variety of opportunities for volunteers is large, and people can put in a lot of time or just a little, whatever works for their schedules and interests, according to RSVP Director Peggy Needham. For information about RSVP, call 509-527-3775.

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