Appreciation luncheon honors RSVP volunteers

In a community with strong volunteers, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) hosted by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Inc. (APIA) can attest to the unified, strong and community-minded senior volunteer pool that drives this effort.

The RSVP program at APIA is rounding its third year in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Within the first three years this program has started from scratch to build a program that offers opportunities for seniors age 55 years and older to give back using the skills and knowledge they have gained during their lifetime. The RSVP program has over 20 partner organizations signed on to provide a place of opportunity for these senior volunteers to serve and carry out that same mission of contributing to the betterment of the community. The program has vastly grown over the last three years with almost 90 senior volunteers actively serving, largely due to APIA's commitment to support the community, support seniors and RSVP's volunteer coordinator, Mary Jordan. Mary has been spreading the word about this extraordinary program for seniors across Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. She has been successful in building partnerships with local non-profits and healthcare organizations and providing volunteer opportunities to gather, give back, and contribute to the success and growth of their communities.

On July 14, 2017, APIA hosted the First Annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon for the RSVP volunteers. This event brought together volunteers, RSVP staff, and two high profile names in the aging community: Duane Mayes, Director of Senior and Disability Services (SDS) for the State of Alaska, and Ken Helander, Advocacy Director of AARP Alaska State office. During this luncheon volunteers were recognized for their dedicated service to their communities.

The show stopping awards came when three volunteers were honored with the "Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award." All three volunteers have over 85 years of accumulated volunteer service. Each honorary member is over the age of 91 years old.

• Lavern Cooper, age 91, volunteers at the Anchorage Senior Center gift shop once or twice a week, except during the summer months when she travels around the state of Alaska in her 21-foot RV. Last summer, on her 90th birthday she decided to buy an RV and travel down the Alcan Highway by herself to meet her son in Washington state. Lavern used to manage the Dimond Snack Shop in the People Mover Transit Center for many years. Her total number of accumulated years of volunteer service in Anchorage: 25 + years.

• Jean Kaufman, age 98, volunteers at the Anchorage Pioneer Home doing various group art projects, card stocking and birthday recognition of the residents. She also knits for "Project Warm Up" and this is quite remarkable considering that her vision has declined considerably over the past several years. Her total number of accumulated years of volunteer service: 30+ years. When Jean was younger she volunteered at 10 to 15 different volunteer sites in Anchorage.

• Violet "Vi" Lowther, age 97, volunteers for "Project Warm Up", knitting hats for the homeless shelters and soup kitchens in Anchorage. She also makes handmade items for newborn babies as part of a project for Providence Family Medicine Center. Her total number of accumulated years of volunteer service: 30+ years. When Violet was younger, she would drive cancer patients to their appointments for Providence Cancer Center.

Another volunteer who was honored at the luncheon was Ursula Parks – she accumulated a total of 2,505 hours of volunteer service as a member of RSVP from July 2016 through July 2017. Ursula volunteers at the Anchorage Senior Center craft room, where she is also the "lead craft person". She also knits hats for "Project Warm Up" on her days off from the center.

An honorable mention needs to go to William "Dee" Dill for his extraordinary volunteer dedication and expertise at the Medicare Information Office. He had been volunteering full time for the past two years at the State of Alaska Medicare Information Office in Anchorage. He served a total of 2,627 hours at this office. Sadly, he recently left the RSVP program to accept full-time employment.