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New RSVP director leads from the heart- Seniors over 55 to offer their time, talents to area organizations that need volunteers

Written by Bruce Lindner. Posted in Featured, Senior Living

Published on November 08, 2017 with No Comments

Evelyn Harris is the new director of United Way of Porter County’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)

The United Way Retired and Senior Volunteer (RSVP) program has a special place in our hearts. It was part of our offices before moving under the United Way of Porter County umbrella.

We recently connected with the program’s new director, Evelyn Harris, to learn more about her and what she has in store for the program. RSVP is a way for seniors over 55 to offer their time and talents to area organizations that need volunteers.

Check out our Q&A.

What is your background?

I’ve been working in nonprofit organizations for almost 30 years because I enjoy meeting the needs of others in order to help them live a better life. I’ve worked for Trinity United Church of Christ as an accounts payable specialist for 10 years and then for Valley Kingdom Ministries International as the Finance Supervisor for 13 years.

One day it felt like the walls were closing in on me and I knew something was missing. I felt the need to connect more in the community and began volunteering at a women’s shelter, Habitat for Humanity, cleaning parks in Gary on the weekends and I loved it!

I decided that it was time for me to switch gears and work with a grassroots organization that would give me the opportunity to meet the needs of everyday people with a hands-on approach. I applied to Lake Area United Way and was offered a position as the resource development associate.

How did you make the role your own?

While working as the resource development associate, the RSVP volunteers would come in twice a week during campaign season. As I walked past their work area, I noticed that there were heavy boxes filled with campaign brochures, which made their volunteer experience difficult, and that’s when my heart took over.

From that day forward, I took it upon myself to manage the volunteer experience and became the RSVP station manager at LAUW in addition to my regular duties. Their ages ranged from early 70s to early 90s and if they could take the time out of their day to give back to the community, then the least we could do was to appreciate them by making it a memorable experience!

They no longer had to deal with emptying heavy boxes because I created custom stations for each volunteer and had all the supplies they needed right in front of them. I removed the hard plastic chairs and replaced them with soft, cushioned chairs and turned each chair toward the door as a friendly invitation. The volunteers had told me they’d work for coffee and doughnuts and I knew from previous conversations what their favorite ones were. So I made sure each one received what they enjoyed!

What was your journey to becoming RSVP director?

Every year I hosted an appreciation luncheon for the seniors around Halloween and the entire staff would participate in a performance where we’d sing, wear costumes, eat, share fellowship and shower them with gifts and, most importantly, love.

The LAUW staff and former RSVP Director Michael Glorioso took notice of the difference I had made in their volunteer experience, and in 2015 I won the Station Manager of the Year award. I didn’t realize at the time that I was actually being groomed to become the Northwest Indiana RSVP director. I was simply following my heart and it led me here where I have the honor and privilege to show love to more seniors!

Why do you enjoy working with seniors?

One of my strengths is inclusivity, which means I am very aware and sensitive to the people around me who feel left out. I make an effort to not only include them, but make sure they feel part of the group.

For example, some of the seniors shared with me feelings of being less useful and vulnerable in a society that doesn’t always recognize their value. Knowledge from conversations such as these strengthens my resolve to find them a service opportunity that will help them realize that they have plenty to offer their community.

RSVP gives seniors the opportunity to continue to be a part of their community by giving back and using the skills they’ve acquired over the years. I enjoy conversing with each volunteer because they bring me so much joy; they’ve helped me as much as I’ve helped them. I don’t believe I chose this profession; it chose me.

How do you see the RSVP program impacting the community?

Not only does the program give senior volunteers the opportunity to put their life experiences to work, it also gives them a chance to learn new skills and become involved in activities that will benefit our local community. There are over 400 RSVP members who are currently serving in Lake, LaPorte, Porter and Starke counties in roles that match their skills, wisdom and talents with the needs of their community. They are impacting organizations in our region by helping them further their mission.

What are your future goals for the program?

My goal is to continually encourage seniors to get involved in their community and to encourage organizations to open their doors to RSVP so that needs are being met on both sides of the equation. I love to celebrate others, so hopefully in the future there’ll be more to share!

For more information, visit http://www.unitedwaypc.org/united-way-retired-and-senior-volunteer-rsvp-program or call Evelyn at (219) 464-3583.

Open Enrollment

It’s that time of year!

Medicare Open Enrollment runs Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.
This is the time for Medicare beneficiaries to review their current prescription drug or Medicare Advantage plan and make changes for 2018 if they want.

People can call our office at (219) 464-1028 to schedule an appointment with a SHIP counselor to review their plans.

 

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About Bruce Lindner

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle.  Bruce Lindner has worked in the not-for-profit world for more than 25 years and has been executive director of Porter County Aging and Community Services for five. A native of the Region, he was raised in Portage and he graduated from Valparaiso University. You can call him at 219-464-9736 or e-mail at bhlindner@frontier.com.

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