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Reaching out

Central Iowa RSVP offers seniors and retirees volunteer opportunities

-Submitted photo
Leaders for BASE senior fitness class go through training in September 2016.

Retirement doesn’t have to mean spending all your time playing golf or sitting at the bridge table — it can also mean getting more involved in your community.

Central Iowa RSVP — Retired and Senior Volunteer Program — is always looking to help connect new volunteers with volunteer opportunities across the region.

“We work with people who are retired or over the age of 55 who would like to volunteer in the community,” said Becky Koppen, volunteer coordinator for RSVP in Hamilton and Webster counties. “We find volunteer opportunities for them in nonprofit organizations, including in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, government agencies or food pantries.”

RSVP connects volunteers with agencies that fall within the volunteer’s interests and keeps track of their volunteer hours.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in 2020, volunteer opportunities dropped to being nearly nonexistent.

-Submitted photo
RSVP volunteer Marilyn Walker reads to a reading buddy in 2017.

“It did take out a lot of the volunteer service that our volunteers were doing,” Koppen said. “They couldn’t be in the hospitals, the nursing homes, the schools or the libraries as a volunteer.”

But RSVP did have one volunteer program that continued strong through COVID — its pen pal program with local schools.

“Seniors write back and forth to a student and it encourages that student to learn how to write a letter and how to get to know someone you don’t know and to communicate with someone of a different generation,” Koppen said. “It’s been a very, very successful program and it’s something they could continue to do.”

And now that things are starting to get back to normal, volunteer opportunities are starting to bounce back as well.

“It’s been a little bit of a slow process, but it’s coming back online and we’re ready,” Koppen said.

Central Iowa RSVP has a wide variety of volunteering opportunities available and coordinators can help match volunteers with opportunities that match up with their personal interests and fits their schedule.

“We have a whole range of time commitment,” Koppen said. “The pen pals program, that’s one letter a month.”

One of RSVP’s biggest programs is its BASE senior fitness classes.

BASE stands for balance, agility, strength and endurance

Koppen originated the classes almost seven years ago. The classes are free and meet twice a week for about 50 minutes. Taught by volunteers trained by RSVP staff, there were 16 different classes meeting at various times and places across Hamilton and Webster counties before COVID-19 hit.

Koppen said this is another program making a comeback at the end of the pandemic.

“It’s been a very, very successful program and we’ve had over 500 people participate in it since it started,” she said.

Koppen encourages any retiree or senior interested in volunteering to reach out to her at 515-832-2525. She serves both Hamilton and Webster counties.

“Volunteering is very good for you,” she said. “It improves your mental health, your physical health. People who volunteer live longer than those who don’t.”

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