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RSVP: seniors giving back to the seniors

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I used to think that by the time I reached retirement age, I’d be ready for some serious downtime. I thought that eventually all grandparents moved to Florida and played shuffleboard. But after spending an afternoon with the fine folks of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Sullivan County, I’m inclined to rethink my priorities.

Last month marked the 45th annual RSVP Recognition Day Luncheon, and as I took my seat for the award ceremony, I looked around the room. Many of the 15 town supervisors were in attendance, along with local dignitaries, past award recipients, and a “Senior of the Year” nominee from each township. The clubhouse of the Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center was filled to capacity as all rose to recite the Pledge of Allegiance followed by Sullivan County Legislator Scott Samuelson singing “God Bless America.” RSVP Project Director Caryn Mathews thanked folks for attending before introducing Deborah E. Allen, who formally announced her own retirement after 38 years serving as director of the Office for the Aging.

Before the presentations, lunch was served, allowing me time to look at the program and read some of the astounding statistics that these volunteers have achieved. “A total of 286 RSVP volunteers have performed over 40,000 hours during 2017,” the program informed me, “showing the dedicated impact that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of service hours donated by the RSVP volunteers are making in our community.” Of those men and women, 10 of them are over the age of 90 themselves and one—Ralph Liff—is 100 years old. Thirteen served the highest number of volunteer hours overall, and all were present to receive special award certificates. Among them was David “Scotty” Greenberger, representing the Town of Highland, who was chosen as the RSVP “Senior of the Year,” and was present to accept the award.

As I snapped photos of the ceremony and made my way through the room, I chatted with some of the volunteers, including Grahamsville’s Kenneth Walter, a lifelong resident of the county. “The impact that Deborah Allen has made on this community is incalculable,” Walter said. “Yes, of course it’s a group effort,” he continued, “and the work that these people do is inspiring. But she has personally served the county for 38 years, and no amount of certificates and awards can truly acknowledge her achievements and dedication to this organization. Deborah is amazing,” he said. “Make sure you write that down.”

Echoing Walter’s sentiments, Sullivan County Legislator Luis A. Alvarez praised Allen’s commitment and the program as a whole, sharing personal anecdotes that illustrated how one person can make a difference in the lives of many. Once again, I turned to the program and reviewed more of the 2017 achievements delineated by director Mathews. “Two-hundred-and-seventy individuals received over 1,600 medical transports from volunteers, and 251 seniors received homebound meals with the assistance of RSVP drivers.” Family members of veterans also benefit from the efforts of the RSVP corps, and more than 300 people received free tax preparations, at a savings of more than $11,000 to members of the community.

As she stepped down from her official duties as director of aging services, Allen shared some closing remarks. “Volunteering is the backbone of our society,” she said. “It gives you greater life satisfaction while staying connected to your community. We at the Office for the Aging would not be able to provide the many services and programs without you, our dedicated volunteers.”

In addition to Mathews congratulating all of the RSVP volunteers on 45 years of service to the county and its residents, she had this to say in conclusion: “As a final note, we bid a tearful farewell to Deborah, who has been a dedicated friend to the program. Thank you for giving so much of your life to helping our community’s seniors. I do hope you can find time to visit us in your retirement,” she said.

“Or maybe,” she added, “become an RSVP volunteer.”

For more information about RSVP, call 845/807-0251 or visit sullivanny.us/Departments/Aging/RSVPRetiredSeniorVolunteerProgram. For an album of photographs from the event, visit www.riverreporter.com.

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