Volunteering is always more comfortable when you join in with a friend. With a spouse, it brings even greater rewards, according to Diana and Rod Marino and Nancy and Randy Schmidt, who participate in several Senior Corps-RSVP programs.
For Rod and Diana, togetherness has always been a part of their lives. They are both retired teachers, but even when they were still working they volunteered as deliverers for Meals on Wheels. Then in 2011, when they left their professions and moved to Elk Grove Village, they began donating their time at the Sheila Ray Adult Center.
“The first thing I was asked to do was make dresses out of pillowcases for little girls in Haiti,” Diana said. Later, Rod established the Ambassadors, a volunteer singing group. The Ambassadors have performed at the center and other senior facilities. Any funds they receive are given to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
Then the Marinos had another idea. Why not put together a karaoke group? They already had their own sound equipment, so in a sense, they were halfway there. A few performers never sang before, but Rod worked with them to help build their confidence. “Some had amazing talent,” Rod said. “It changed their life.”
He and another woman put on a “Sonny and Cher” show at the center and afterward the woman’s granddaughter said how proud she was of her grandmother. So, in a roundabout way, the Marinos’ project helped bring families closer together too.
Sadly, for the time being, there is no opportunity for any singing at the Center due to COVID-19 restrictions. But the Marinos were able to do a kick-off concert in the Center parking lot when it opened in early September with limited activities.
Diana and Rod each volunteer about five hours a week at this point. Both work Bingo sessions. Rod calls out the squares and Diana records them. They also host Dominoes games. “It’s quality time for us and so we can give quality time to others,” Rod said. Both say that volunteering together is a good way to support each other’s projects. When Rod would hold his concerts twice a year, Diana served as technician. And when Diana’s crochet group hosted bazaars, Rod was there to lend a helping hand. The Marinos believe that joining the center is the best thing they’ve done. “It’s become our family,” Diana said.
Colleen Mahanna, Adult Coordinator at the Center has high praise for the Marinos: “Rod and Diana Marino have brought a bright light to a service position. They have done this in many different roles through the Sheila Ray Adult Center, from Advisory Board President to group leaders. This power couple brings a sense of simplicity and creativity wherever they go.
Randy Schmidt retired in February, but his volunteering history with wife Nancy goes back several years. During the period when she was a stay-at-home mom, they found time to serve with Feed My Starving Children, filling food packets for children in underdeveloped countries. In addition, both were part of the School District 54 Intergenerational program, working in the Book Room, and Community Closet. “We find this very rewarding,” Randy said. “The power of working together and with a group to make a difference each session feels really good.”
As with Diana and Rod, COVID-19 has curtailed some of the Schmidts’ volunteer projects. However, Randy will be joining Nancy in the Senior Corps-RSVP Intergenerational Pen Pal program (in which seniors exchange letters each month with schoolchildren October through March). Nancy has been a great supporter of the program and her tireless energy and commitment finally convinced Randy to join in the fun.
Nancy also spent some time as a classroom aide in one of her grandson’s classes and the Township High School District 214 Read to Learn program. She especially remembers her first Read to Learn student, a Korean nun. “I learned more from her than she did from me,” Nancy recalled. “I was sad when she was re-posted to South Korea and we lost touch. Also, Feed My Starving Children brings great satisfaction each time, learning how many children will be fed with the meals packed each session.”
She’s exceedingly passionate about programs focused on education and literacy. “Without those, we are lost,” she said. “With respect specifically to the Pen Pal program I have written letters all my life. I had pen pals in two different countries, and learned about their lives and their countries. In this day of everything electronic, I fear we are losing the ability to truly communicate with each other.
Carolyn Roberts, who heads the Senior Corps-RSVP Pen Pal program, is delighted to have Nancy and Randy on the team: “Like all of our Pen Pal volunteers, Nancy is an enthusiastic writer and connects so well with her students. As a testament to her dedication and delight with our Intergenerational Pen Pal program, she has recruited her husband, making them our first husband and wife writing team!”
Incidentally, according to Nancy, there are a couple of side benefits for couples who work as a team: “We volunteer together because it gives us something positive to do as a couple, and most of the sites are a drive from our home, so we conserve gas by going together.”
Written by Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member
For more information on Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer opportunities, visit HandsOnSuburbanChicago.org
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