Senior Corps-RSVP is a national service program that fosters civic engagement of volunteers 55+ years of age and inspires people to answer the call to serve; transforming lives and communities where they live. As the nation faced the corona virus pandemic, we were challenged to navigate the unexpected. “Pivoting” strategically allows you to let go of what is no longer working so that you can embrace the possibilities that are more aligned with a new path.
We highlight four Senior Corps –RSVP members that navigated this unexpected change and how they pivoted in these unprecedented times.
Senior Corps-RSVP member Karen Zmrhal serves as a skills-based volunteer with HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC). Like other organizations, the HOSC office closed following Governor Pritzker’s stay at home order. That closed door did not stop Karen from finding a way to “pivot” and continue to do volunteer service in the community. According to Karen, “… it was 11am on a Friday and I just asked myself what can I do to serve in this crisis?” Having volunteered for many years with Community Threads, a resale store serving homeless women and children, Karen was aware of the importance of helping people meet their basic needs. Karen settled on doing a food drive and decided to start where she lives, in Palatine Township. The food collected would go to the Palatine Township Food Pantry. Karen contacted her condo association President, who, within a half hour, gave her permission to stage the food drive. Karen composed the donation letter to distribute to her neighbors. By 2pm that Friday, the message was sent out to the 120 members of Karen’s association asking them to have food donations outside their garage door between 10am and noon on the following Thursday. The response from her neighbors was truly great. With the help of a neighbor, the two filled all the available space in Karen’s car. Karen said, “…people didn’t just donate food. Many of the bags included checks as well!” So what was her next pivot? Karen engaged her church choir and orchestra in a similar food drive for Wheeling Township Food Pantry, with similar results – an SUV filled with food donations.
Lyn Neuhengen, Senior Corps-RSVP member, also a volunteer at HOSC, shared her thoughts on “pivoting” to use her sewing skills to make 100 face masks for Clearbrook’s caregivers and clients. Here’s what she had to say. “We are in the middle of critical times right now. Every day I give thanks that we are blessed with a safe and secure roof over our heads and enough food to eat. But that is not the case for so many. There is much fear and uncertainty. We have to each ask ourselves – What can I do to make a difference for someone in need? With the shortage of protective equipment for caregivers and patients and those in other compromised situations, and being an able sewer, I identified (thru HandsOn) the face mask needs at Clearbrook and decided to help. In addition to sewing, I have participated in food drives, made grocery card donations for needy families, and helped organize group cash donations to six food pantries and three other social service agencies. It somehow helps to give me hope personally to reach out a hand to others at this difficult time.”
Senior Corps-RSVP Intergenerational Pen Pal Program volunteer, Nancy Schmidt, turned to HandsOn Suburban Chicago’s website to see how she could “pivot” during the stay-at-home order. The Pen Pal program she had so enjoyed had just ended in early March. She loved getting to know and engage with her young elementary Pen Pal students. Nancy found a similar activity to bring some joy to residents in a Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) program while they were self-isolating. Nancy become a CILA Pen-Friend, sending cards to the residents living in group homes. The residents are also sending cards back to her.
Senior Corp-RSVP member, Tom Gaynor, and board member of The Historic Arlington Neighborhood Association (HANA.) found a way to lift the spirits of his neighborhood during this pandemic. Tom noticed some people putting up signs in their yards with inspiring messages of hope. Tom’s “pivot” – “I thought it would be great to see even more signs in our neighborhood.” Tom knew there were leftover signs from a campaign he had previously participated in. He asked if the signs could be donated to HANA residents. Tom received a total of seven dozen campaign signs. To create a ‘blank canvas’, he painted them with old paint from previous home improvement projects. “We tested them first to make sure the paint would withstand the weather, and it did so that area kids could paint inspirational messages on them and put them in their yards. The signs went like hotcakes, which proved there was interest.” Kids of all ages have painted signs. The encouraging messages was a great way to lift spirits as families walked with their kids during quarantine.
So many of us are in need in so many different ways, and the only way to overcome this crisis is together. Join Karen, Lyn, Nancy and Tom in catalyzing the power of collective responsibility by signing up for an urgent opportunity today.
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