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Senior Corps-RSVP members show how to make the most out of volunteering

2017 November 2
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Ask people in their late fifties or early sixties how they plan on spending their golden years and one of the answers might be, “I’ll do some volunteering.” Ask them what kind of volunteering and they may say, “I don’t know, something.” That’s where Senior Corps-RSVP members Karen Zmrhal and Kay Haubenreiser come in. They are often the first people a senior meets when making a commitment to serve the community. These ladies help prospective volunteers find the service areas that will match their skills, give the most satisfaction and, in particular, the most enjoyment.

Karen Zmrhal (right), Senior Corps-RSVP member and Volunteering 101 instructor.

They do this through the HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC) 90-minute Volunteer 101 program which is usually presented at area libraries and their office in Arlington Heights.  The program focuses on why people volunteer and the benefits of volunteering, but also counsels individuals on selecting the best volunteer fit, keeping in mind their skills and where they will find the greatest satisfaction The program ends by showing attendees how to navigate the HOSC web site,,  so they can zero in on the field they find most appealing and sign up. There are over 180 nonprofits listed so the search may appear daunting, but Karen and Kay instruct in such a way that by the end of the session participants are comfortable with the database structure. The ladies love what they do and it shows. Even they are perfect examples of matching the volunteers to the job.

Karen can speak from her own experience. Her background is teaching. She taught Microsoft Office at Harper for many years and served on the board of HOSC when it was The Volunteer Center. When she retired full-time she began searching for places to volunteer. At HOSC they said “Volunteer here.” So she became a “jack-of-all trades,” setting up their computer network and backup data. She also taught Microsoft Office for the staff and still handles various computer projects on Wednesdays.
Karen says an essential part of volunteering is, “learning how to volunteer.” She emphasizes that the goal is to get to people and give them a reason to serve. In some cases, she feels, “It can even combat depression.” She often reminds new volunteers that they’re not just volunteers, they are using their skills and sharing their skills with the community.

“Most important,” she says, “is to do the type of volunteering you enjoy. If you find a type of service is not for you, tell the Senior Corps-RSVP staff. There are so many needs that there is bound to be something that is a good fit.”

Karen noted that some volunteers want to be surrounded by people; others want to “sit in a corner and work,” such as addressing envelopes. She tells the story of one man who, after being in the corporate world for several years, said he wasn’t looking for anything “where I have to think.” When he spotted the Meals on Wheels listing he knew he had come to the right place. Another man at one of the outreach events wanted to read to seniors. He was connected to a specific agency and paired up with a client the following day.

Kay Haubenreiser, Senior Corps-RSVP member, instructing class participants to search for volunteer opportunities.

Kay’s background covers several areas, including twenty years of marketing at AT&T and Motorola. After a hiatus to take on family responsibilities, she decided to study the field of gerontology, since she had enjoyed serving at hospitals and nursing homes when she was younger. She earned a Masters Certificate in Gerontology and is now halfway through a gerontology master’s degree program.  When she worked as a volunteer coordinator for a hospice partner organization, she got to see firsthand how valuable HOSC is to the community and was impressed at its extensive knowledge of volunteer management and commitment to volunteers and partners. When she retired, she decided to be part of it.

“HOSC’s Volunteer 101 program inspired me in the same way,” she says. “To reach people who were seeking information on how to serve others and in this case, the community.  HOSC’s partners are engaged in many worthwhile activities. This was a way to support several causes at once.”

When asked what she enjoys most when teaching Volunteer 101 classes, she said, “I am humbled by the number of people who attend the Volunteer 101 program with a sincere desire to volunteer and make the world a better place. They are interested and committed, making the effort to come to a program, learn more and connect with organizations needing their assistance. They impact people’s lives through their generous gift of time, talent and presence.”

Even if you have been volunteering for many years, we invite you to attend a Volunteer 101 class. Our next class March 22, 2018 at Forest View Educational Center, Arlington Heights from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

With the holiday season almost upon us, even current volunteers might be interested in knowing there will be many one-time opportunities for serving, whether it’s helping at special-needs holiday parties, adopting a family or wrapping presents for the various charities in the area. The list should be out soon.

Visit for more information.

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