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Open Invitation | By Mysti Koontz


Most of us, when we hear the term RSVP, think of needing to call before a party or to give a response in answer to an invitation. But there are others in Fayetteville who would think of something entirely different. Those individuals think of a warm meal served with a kind smile or a little extra help with homework, or possibly that person who gives directions at the hospital. Why do these people have such a different concept of RSVP? It might have to do with their involvement with an organization called the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP for short. RSVP volunteers serve more than 76 organizations across Cumberland County. The agency has federal ties as a member of Senior Corps, under the auspices of the Corporation for National and Community Service. It is a federal non-profit program founded in 1974 which helps connect citizens 55 and older to meaningful volunteer positions. Jim Stitt, a faithful RSVP volunteer at 77, put it this way, “It’s a clearinghouse of volunteers, a place to connect with others and do something worthwhile.” Stitt has been delivering meals to shut-ins for more than six years and recalls a golden moment that stands out amongst the others. He had noticed the condition of this particular elderly woman had declined between each of their visits. First she had been walking to the door, then with a walker she came, and now she was in a wheelchair. But she always greeted the volunteers with a smile, asked how they were doing and told them to be safe while they were out. This time was different. She was despondent and quiet when Stitt arrived that day. She moved awkwardly with her walker, obviously needing her wheelchair. He asked why she wasn’t using it. The woman frowned and explained that the wheelchair had quit working. Stitt looked at the chair and gently asked if it needed to be charged. She looked at him in surprise and confessed she hadn’t thought of that. Stitt helped charge her chair and was rewarded with a grateful smile. Such a small gesture meant so much to her, he said. Each RSVP volunteer can tell stories of simple acts of kindness which made someone’s life better, at least for a moment. Nearly every day, volunteers are serving meals to shut-ins or the homeless, walking dogs at the animal shelter, tutoring children or figuring taxes for someone who cannot do it alone. They work in medical centers, museums and senior centers across the city. There is an RSVP volunteer in almost every charitable group in Fayetteville. Last year alone, 515 RSVP volunteers worked more than 104,000 hours, saving the community an estimated $2 million. Mary L. Mack is one of those volunteers. She says serving others gives her a sense of satisfaction and purpose. For now, she is on the receiving end of such help, but all of us, if we live long enough, end up in the receiving line. RSVP Executive Director Judy Dawkins says that she is both honored and challenged by her volunteers. “You cannot see what they give and how they serve and it not make a footprint on your heart,” she says. Ashley Smith of the United Way says two things make RSVP different from other volunteer organizations: the quality of the volunteers and Judy Dawkins. “These volunteers show up on time and do a good job with a great attitude,” says Smith, “and Judy Dawkins lights up a room with her energy. She motivates others to make a real difference.” Dawkins is herself a senior adult. She believes there is no better time to teach younger generations that life is more than living for number one.