MILTON — For some 37 years, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Milton went from knitting children’s booties to aiding hurricane relief efforts, according to Director Brenda Roland.
Roland said she started at the entry level with RSVP in 1985 and, since its start in Santa Rosa County five years before then, the organization "looked at keeping seniors strictly active."
However, by 1996 she said the focus shifted toward volunteerism, and "how are they helping the community."
Roland said during the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, RSVP had "almost 500 volunteers cutting down trees and cleaning debris, (as well as) feeding people through the Red Cross ... At that time we had over 18,ooo volunteer hours in a matter of four to five weeks."
Roland said RSVP operates not by recruiting volunteers directly for itself; instead, it recruits volunteers for organizations like American Red Cross, United Way of Santa Rosa County or other groups that need regular or temporary volunteers. She said these volunteers take brief RSVP training but act as volunteers of the organization in need.
"I recruit seniors, 55 and older, to place in other nonprofit organizations ... We have volunteers that work 40 to 60 hours a week, some just for events," she said.
Recent activities of RSVP include recruiting 18 volunteers to open shelters for disasters through the American Red Cross; supporting the Santa Rosa County Emergency Operations Center by coordinating volunteers; partnering with Santa Rosa Medical Center to provide hospitality volunteers when hospital staffing is low; and providing transportation to elderly and disabled individuals for medical appointments or grocery shopping.
Roland said RSVP is also working to recruit mentors to help Bridges Out of Poverty's Getting Ahead graduates. Bridges out of Poverty provides classes for those in crisis to help them manage their resources. Bridges discovered its graduates still want guidance after graduation, so the organization seeks mentors.
Roland said, "Seniors like to do that. Years ago, we had 30 volunteers to mentor pregnant teenage girls through the Pregnancy Resource Center. Seniors have such knowledge and experience."
In July, RSVP moved from 6052 Buckskin Drive — which consisted of three portable school buildings on RSVP property — to the Guy Thompson Community Center. Roland said since the community center also provides senior activities "it was a no-brainer" to move into the building.