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Revitalizing RSVP: Lutheran Social Services takes over as sponsor

The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) in Dickinson has been revitalized, thanks to its new sponsoring agency -- Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.

LSS  has taken over the RSVP program for the state of North Dakota, with offices for Fargo/Grand Forks, Devils Lake/Jamestown, Bismarck, Minot and Dickinson.

“RSVP is not an organization, it’s a federal program that requires a sponsoring organization,” said Nancy Olson, RSVP team leader.

RSVP has a long history going back to the 1970s. It connects volunteers 55 and older with service opportunities in their communities. RSVP is part of the Senior Corps, which in turn, is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. The program is funded with grants to qualified agencies.

RSVP’s original sponsoring agency was the Stark County Council on Aging. In 2005, the council relinquished its sponsorship  to North Dakota State University, Olson said.

Then in March of 2017, NDSU relinquished its sponsorship for all the RSVP regions.

“The great thing about Dickinson was the United Way stepped up to have a seamless transition to a new sponsor. They put it on life support until a new sponsor was named,” Olson said. “Some volunteers never stopped what they were doing. It’s important to thank United Way for stepping out -- we couldn’t be more grateful for the support we got throughout the transition.”

The ultimate goal of RSVP is to foster the health and well being of older adults -- to allow them to stay independent longer, she said.

At one time, RSVP had a variety of volunteer stations -- everything from soup to nuts -- but its mission has evolved.

“Over time, the Congress which appropriates the dollars, wanted to have a sense of what was happening across the country… to center on common things that we call seven service plans,” Olson said.

Those plans include food delivery, transportation, companionship, food distribution, food collection, food pantry support and Bone Builders.

Bone Builders is a free fitness program, often held in community senior centers. It’s goal is to prevent osteoporosis.

Food security may be identified as helping at a food pantry.  Transportation may be identified as helping someone get to church or going to grocery store.

“It’s really responding to what the local needs are,” Olson said. “I keep hearing from agencies that transportation is a real challenge. Maybe you need a ride to congregate meal site. For some, loneliness is an issue and we can provide a companion to do that.”

Olson encourages prospective volunteers to consider RSVP.

“What a great way to spend social time -- we all need social time with others and volunteering is that -- bring a friend, bring a relative and go together to make it fun and feel good about helping  your community at the same time.”

Olson drives out to Dickinson on a quarterly basis for advisory council meetings. The next meeting is June 14.

“It’s been a joy for me to see the program develop in the regions -- each region in the state has a different personality and we’re trying to respond to local needs,” she said.

Dickinson/Williston regional specialist is Kailein VanDyke, who is currently seeking new volunteers.

“A community is run by volunteers and their contributions are vital,” she said.

Volunteers are welcome to remain at their previous stations, but she’d like to introduce them to the new focus areas.  As examples, RSVP will be hosting community food drives and the Bone Builders exercise classes need volunteers.

For more information call the RSVP office at  701-227-8421. The office is located at 117 First St. E., and the hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.