Government

RSVP Volunteers: Hidden in Plain Sight

They’re in practically every corner of the county – you just might not know it. They’re not hiding or trying to be incognito. In fact, they’re happy to be recognized.

You might see them at the San Diego Botanical Gardens, the Alpine Community Center, one of the Sharp hospitals or a Balboa Park museum.

More than 500,000 volunteer hours are donated annually in San Diego County by 2,000-plus retired or older adults through the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), sponsored locally by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency’s Aging & Independence Services.

When most people think of RSVP they picture the volunteer patrols that assist law enforcement in the county. While that is one of the more high-profile assignments, that barely scratches the surface of the contributions the volunteers make in our communities.

RSVP works with more than 125 sites doing everything from delivering meals to guiding tours to teaching children and adults to read.

Linda Hopkins, the new RSVP manager, is working on raising the visibility of the program. The San Diego County RSVP is the largest in Southern California.

“I call it our identity crisis,” she said. “Most people think the program is law enforcement volunteers, but we’re much more than just law enforcement opportunities.”

There are a couple ways Hopkins intends to do that. New “RSVP Volunteer Serving Here” signs are on the way for the sites with volunteers. Hopkins is also making community presentations and making the rounds to visit volunteer sites.

She also wants to add more of a personal touch to the program by sharing stories of the volunteers and how their activities are helping their respective organizations and contributing to our communities.

“It’s about showing the value of volunteerism to seniors,” Hopkins said. “One of the huge things we see is that some people lose their sense of value as they leave the workforce.

“Volunteering with RSVP gives many of them a sense of ‘I feel like I’m making a difference in my community,’” she said. “That’s important to seniors.”

One of the biggest benefits to volunteering is that older adults gain a new social network or can great expand their existing one through their service.

The only requirement for volunteers is that they are age 55 years or older. Volunteers may receive supplemental insurance, limited mileage reimbursement, recognition as the volunteer of the month and be eligible for the annual RSVP dinner.

“Some of our volunteers put in around 2,000 hours a year,” said Hopkins. “It’s basically full-time for them.”

The average age of volunteers is 74. In 2012, there were 8 volunteers that were between the ages of 95 and 99, and 49 between the ages of 90 and 94.

A site can use RSVP volunteers if they are a public entity or non-profit organization, provide liability insurance and have a signed memorandum of agreement with the program.

For more information on the program, visit http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/hhsa/programs/ais/volunteers/ or call 1-858-505-6399.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact