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The gift of time

Event celebrates RSVP volunteers, highlights Veterans History Project

Attendees of a party held by the Retired Senior Volunteer Program Tuesday socialize and enjoy refreshments. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Local volunteers age 55 and older donate thousands of hours to their communities each year through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, giving the gift of their time to agencies and individuals across Marquette County.

Because of all the work RSVP volunteers do in the community, volunteerism was celebrated at a party held by RSVP at the Marquette Senior Center Tuesday afternoon.

“April is Volunteer Appreciation Month and so we try to do something to just recognize our volunteers,” RSVP Director Mary Harris said.

The event was held at the Marquette Senior Center, organizers said, as they wanted to make attendees more aware of the resources offered by the center.

“We just wanted everyone to feel comfortable coming down here and know where we were because a lot of people still didn’t know, a lot of the volunteers didn’t know,” Marquette Senior Services Manager Maureen Sullivan said. “So we’re just happy to host it and get to partner up with RSVP.”

Retired Senior Volunteer Program Director Mary Harris speaks to attendees of an RSVP party held at the Marquette Senior Center. The party aimed to honor volunteers, as April is Volunteer Recognition Month. Attendees of the event had a chance to socialize, learn more about the roles of other volunteers, enjoy refreshments, enter raffles, and more during the party. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

Current and prospective RSVP volunteers were in attendance at the event, which allowed them to meet other volunteers, learn about resources, enjoy refreshments, enter raffles, socialize and learn more about what other volunteers are doing in the community, Harris said.

During the event, attendees had a chance to hear from Linda Dillman, an RSVP volunteer who has been working to preserve the stories of our veterans through the Veterans History Project, an effort of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center.

Dillman, who has volunteered with the program for several years, works with other volunteers to interview local veterans about their experiences, and record and transcribe the interviews, with the final product given to the veterans and their families, as well as the Library of Congress.

It’s a valuable project and process, Dillman said, as “their stories are so important to our history and to their families.”

“This is my giving back to the veterans for all they’ve done for our country,” she said.

A pin from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, with a thank-you note attached, sits upon a table at a party held by RSVP at the Marquette Senior Center Tuesday. RSVP Volunteer Linda Dillman spoke to attendees about her experience cataloging the stories of local veterans through the Veterans History Project. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

While it can be difficult for veterans to share their stories, Dillman encourages them to do so through the project because of the immense emotional, social and historical significance of veterans’ storytelling.

“I would love to have more people volunteer to tell their story. If not for themselves, for their families … Many of them have buried their thoughts for years,” Dillman said. “And once they start to think about it, I think they can put it in proper perspective at this point in their life and start healing.”

She also encourages interested parties to volunteer to help with interviewing or transcribing stories for the project, as it can be a valuable experience — and no two stories are alike.

“Six veterans of the same branch, they might have been in the same war, and some of them might have had the same job, but every story is different,” she said. “There’s a different take; everyone has a different story to tell.”

Overall, Dillman wants veterans to know how much she appreciates “every veteran, whether they were drafted or enlisted. They put their life on the line for our country.”

“My main idea is for the veterans to make them realize how appreciated they are,” she said. “Our country wouldn’t be what it is if we didn’t have the veterans that fought to keep us free.”

Beyond the Veterans History Project, RSVP offers a wide variety of volunteer placements in the community, organizers said. A few examples include creating handmade cards, volunteering at local schools and senior centers, offering transportation to medical appointments for seniors 60 and older and joining TRIAD, which partners local seniors with law enforcement.

With over 50 volunteer sites in Marquette County, RSVP organizers can help a prospective volunteer find the right placement for their interests and abilities, Harris said.

“We can help find the right volunteer opportunity, so if somebody isn’t sure where they could use their skills, they tell us what they like to do and we help them find a spot,” she said.

Harris emphasized that RSVP also offers support and resources for their volunteers.

“We get to give them support. We help them with liability insurance, auto insurance for the time that they’re volunteering, reimbursement for mileage to help them get to volunteer opportunities,” she said. “And to do volunteer recognition, so they get to meet other people that are doing similar things and we celebrate all the things that they’re doing in the community.”

Those interested in becoming a volunteer through RSVP can call 906-315-2607, visit RSVP’s website, or drop into the office for more information.

RSVP’s website can be accessed at https://bit.ly/2ty1W86 or http://www.co.marquette.mi.us/departments/aging_services/rsvp_(retired_senior_volunteer_program).php#.XHH8xYVht9g .