Volunteers can make all the difference in the world for those in need, and that is what the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Geauga County is doing. Amy Blake, coordinator of the RSVP of Geauga County, said it is a National Senior Corp program and one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation.

Individuals 55 and older volunteer with local nonprofits including schools and health care organizations in the communities, Mrs. Blake told members of the Chagrin Valley Rotary recently.

“Volunteers are a key component in the community. They see the needs. They are out doing the work, and together we can help address those needs,” she said.“If there is a need in the community, that is what we are all about,” she said.

RSVP in Geauga County was started in July 2017 with a grant. It is a program of Family and Community Services in Ravenna and focuses on food and educational needs within the community, she said.

The first year was devoted to program development and recruiting volunteers, Mrs. Blake said. While her office is in Madison, she meets the organizations that need volunteers in their own communities.

As program coordinator, Mrs. Blake finds those 55 and older who have the time to volunteer. “When individuals express interest in volunteering I meet with them and discuss their skills,” she said. The goal is to match the volunteers with organizations they might serve.

“My job is to help them find a good volunteer opportunity,” she said. She meets with them in an informal conversation over coffee. “It’s a fun opportunity and we get introduced to the partner organizations,” Mrs. Blake said.

“Any nonprofit organization can get in touch with me if they need volunteers,” she said. “We work with the American Red Cross and the Veterans Food Pantry of Geauga County, which is a program of the Burton Middlefield American Legion.” The pantry is located at Geauga County Job and Family Services.

Volunteers go out every Friday and pick up fresh food donations for the pantry from local Geauga businesses, including Eddy Fruit Farm, Giant Eagle stores, Sage’s Apples, Panera Bread restaurant and many more for the pantry.

Volunteers pack up the food and deliver it to veterans who can’t get to the pantry. Right now the group takes bags of food to eight homebound veterans.

“Volunteers make the difference,” she said. “The food pantry is 100 percent volunteer run.”

About 30 families referred by the Veterans Service Commission, Geauga County office come to the pantry for food, she said. “And we know there are many more families in need.”

The volunteers are a group of people who can give their time and skills and provide what couldn’t be done except for them, Mrs. Blake said.

“We just partnered with Hospice of Western Reserve. Volunteers serve as friendly visitors, calling on some of the patients,” she said. “Hospice really needs volunteers to visit the homebound and to be friendly visitors.”

There might also be opportunities to take someone to a doctor’s visit or other type of medical appointment and to grocery stores. The volunteers are reimbursed for their mileage, according to Mrs. Blake.

Probably the most urgent need at this time is the friendly visitor to the Hospice patients or homebound individuals, she said.

“I have a volunteer who goes to the Chardon senior center, and she saw a need for the friendly visitors,” she said. Some of the members at the senior center knew of people who can’t get out. “And that started the friendly visit program. They are trying to look out for each other.”

RSVP also partners with Job and Family Services in its tutoring programs to help in the schools, she said, with three volunteer tutors serving currently.

The American Red Cross is looking for volunteers to install smoke detectors in homes, based on eligibility. “I have volunteers who want to be hands-on. They look for those opportunities,” Mrs. Blake said.

“These nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers because sometimes there aren’t funds to hire more staff to meet the needs in the community,” Mrs. Blake said. “There are lots of benefits that come out of this for the volunteers as well.”

Before taking on the position as program coordinator for RSVP, Mrs. Blake coordinated a program for homeless veterans. Now, she said, she believes she can do even more being out and about in the community. “It’s really enjoyable. I get to see everything in action. Being able to sit down and talk with volunteers is awesome. We’ve become a family.”

There is an enrollment process which is simple and includes an interview. “I like to accompany the volunteers to meet with the organization where they will be volunteering to get more details and to get an idea what it is before committing,” she said.

“After a life of working, doing something enjoyable is very cool and rewarding.”

While RSVP of Geauga County receives a grant through the Corporation for National and Community Services, it has to match a certain percent through monetary and in-kind donations as well as local support, she said.

Those interested in volunteering can call Mrs. Blake at 440-210-3044 or she can be reached by email at ablake1@fcsohio.org.

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