a low-profile presence in Moab making a huge impact on the
lives of hundreds of people under the umbrella of the Retired
Seniors Volunteer Program, known more commonly as Grand County’s
Kate Thompson has nurtured the once-fledgling organization into a full-time
service with two Vista Volunteers and 170 community volunteers. While
largely made up of senior citizens, volunteers include people of all
ages who, like Kate, see overwhelming needs in the homes and lives of
many Moab residents.
Baffico and Kate Thompson
RSVP is a nationwide
program – one of the oldest volunteer efforts, according
to Kate – that matches local problems with older
Americans who want to help solve them. RSVP links the skills
of volunteers with community needs. The volunteer decides
how much time to give, and is offered no stipend for their
efforts. But they do receive accident, personal liability
and excess automobile insurance, as well as community recognition,
“Before I came to work here we always had a part-time coordinator in Moab, “ Kate,
who started with the program about five years ago, said. “It’s funded
by the Corporation for National Service to recruit and organize senior volunteers
to solve critical community problems and needs.”
About five years ago the crux of RSVP was providing transportation to
local seniors for medical appointments, hair appointments, shopping and
other errands; finding volunteers to work with the then-in-infancy Humane
Society; and getting seniors (for the purposes of this program, people
age 55 and up) to help with Moab Music Festival Mailings; and reading
to elementary school students. The benefits go two ways: seniors are
involved in community activities, receive the company and affection of
children and animals; and make new friends among their peers and elders.
The benefits for those on the receiving end of volunteer services may
be more obvious: homebound people get out; children receive the extra
help they need in school; and organizations that make up the lifeblood
of the community thrive.
The list of volunteer opportunities is substantial, and orientation and
training is provided by local non-profits who recruit volunteers. They
include bird banding, butterfly collecting, event poster hanging, readers
in Grand County schools, Friendly Companions, Bird Club, transportation,
Wabi Sabi Thrift Store (proceeds benefit local non-profit organizations),
Moab Music Festival, Humane Society, CERT (Community Emergency Response
Team), Foster Grandparent program, Hospice, TIP (Trauma Intervention
Program), and Medicare eligibility assistance.
Friendly Companions component has blossomed since January under
the direction of Vista Volunteer Susan Baffico, who under a one-year
grant receives a small stipend for her efforts. The Friendly
Companions program links community volunteers with elderly people
who live alone and enjoy company. One of the needs might include
reading and discussing a newspaper with someone who’s eyesight
is failing, or someone who just wants company. Other volunteers
share meals with their companion, or go for rides.
Volunteers are asked to spend two hours a week on whatever job they commit
to, but Kate says the amount of time varies greatly – in both directions.
The consistency of time with the Friendly Comapnions program, however,
is a key to the success of that program. Many Friendly Companions visit
for far longer stretches and develop family-like relationships with those
they choose to help.
The other Vista Volunteer, Marie Andrews, heads up the School Reading
Program. Kate says that this has been particularly helpful since the
mandate of “No Child Left Behind,” which expects a 90 percent
reading rate among the nation’s first graders. Teachers implement
the tools and train volunteers. Kids who need a little extra help receive
Kate said referrals for those needing services come in various ways,
and she said she is acutely aware of a “frightening and overwhelming” need
for volunteers. Some of the more elderly senior volunteers have little
mobility themselves, but will still sign up to call people “just
to make sure they’re doing okay,” Kate said.
“Sometimes people think they are loners, but they’re not,” Susan
said of the more shy or independent of those who have needs they’d rather
people didn’t know about.
see a lot of people form relationships here at the Senior Center during
lunches,” Kate adds. “And we have people here who play music
every day. John Hagner has put together a band that goes and plays at
the hospital once a month. This brings out the musicians and the people
they play to.”
It’s because of this dynamic of people helping people in a small
community that makes it difficult for Kate to even keep track of the
number of people, and hours, that are volunteered every month.
“We have logs, but nobody turns in all the time they put out,” she
While there is an active volunteer community in Moab, Kate and Susan
said the need is great for more. They encourage people of all ages who
have an interest in helping out two hours a week, or one event at a time,
to call the RSVP office at 259-1302. Visiting, walking, yard work, transportation,
caregiver respite, reading the newspaper; simple acts with the potential
to add joy to the day-to-day life of a neighbor.