Early this year, RSVP of Dane County marked a milestone - we welcomed our 10,000th volunteer!
RSVP is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that places volunteers, aged 55 and older, in projects all over the county. Over the years, 10,000 residents of Dane County have tapped into their time, talents and energy to help their neighbors countywide. These volunteers have kept people warmer, safer, healthier, happier and better educated.
Since its beginning over four decades ago, RSVP of Dane County has experienced seven presidents, seven governors and 42 seasons of Saturday Night Live. We've become one of the largest and most successful RSVP programs in the United States.
The germ of RSVP goes back to 1965, when a New York City project called SERVE (Serve and Enrich Retirement by Volunteer Experience) was launched. This was a project of the Older Americans Act of 1965. In 1969, that model was spread to eleven programs around the country as part of the National Volunteer Agency ACTION. In 1972, RSVP of Dane County became the first such program in Wisconsin.
It all started in a kitchen, on a sunny day. Sort of. In 1972, a fledgling organization called RSVP was looking for projects and volunteers to enrich the lives of seniors in Dane County. One of the earliest projects was the Richmond Hill Sunshine Kitchen Band, a group of energetic retirees living at Romnes Apartments. The band included piano, kazoos, drums, tambourine, cymbals, horn, maracas and of course, a washboard. They entertained at retirement homes, senior centers and nursing homes.
Times changed. We've gone from organizing jam sessions in the Romnes kitchen to an organization that connects thousands of volunteers each year to local organizations of their choice. They can use their existing skills, or explore new interests while serving their community and enriching their own lives. Examples of what RSVP volunteers do include: working in food pantries; aiding in local and national disasters; driving seniors to medical appointments; working with kids in schools; assisting in senior safety programs; sewing and knitting comfort items for community members in need; and working in hospitals and veterans' organizations. These opportunities and more are available through our various programs: Community Connections, Intergenerational, Foster Grandparents, Group Projects, TRIAD and Driver Services.
One of our most successful new programs is Vets Helping Vets, part of our Driver Services division. Military veterans volunteer to provide free medical and select service rides to other military vets who would otherwise not be able to find affordable transportation. In addition to the obvious transportation service this program provides, there are underlying benefits to having the drivers be vets themselves. They have a unique understanding of what the passengers have experienced in their service lives.
RSVP's current focus includes expanding our programs and volunteer base to reflect the demographic makeup of Dane County, looking for a more diverse mix of participants of all races, ethnicities and orientations. We are now devoting substantial staff and volunteer hours to that effort.
RSVP Executive Director Margie Zutter is inspired by the work that our volunteers do. She's in awe of how they seek ways to serve others, while often experiencing difficulties in their own lives. Zutter sees an increasing need for this kind of enthusiastic volunteer service from Baby Boomers and later generations as they retire. She hopes that we see expanding numbers of volunteers joining us, bringing with them their strength, enthusiasm, skills and sense of service. RSVP is thankful to its 10,000+ volunteers who over the years have driven thousands of people to medical appointments, served thousands of home-delivered meals, helped veterans get the health care they need, and helped children grow and succeed in school and in the community. We thrive on partnerships with community government, business and a myriad of nonprofit organizations. Our volunteers tell us they thrive on spending their time doing good things for their community.
In 2015, RSVP was named United Way of Dane County's Nonprofit of the Year. And, it all started with a piano, a washboard and a kazoo or two. Amazing.