The Best of…RSVP Provides Volunteer Opportunities Throughout Rhode Island

Published July  2, 2001, Pawtucket Times

         A little bit of leisure activity, combined with a part-time job, with a little volunteering are just the right mix of ingredients to make Janet Catineault’s retirement years fulfilling.   

          At age 68, Catineault, who formerly was employed by Fuller Box Company in Central Falls and International Packaging in Pawtucket, now works as a part-time receptionist at the City ofPawtucket’sLeonMathieuSeniorCenter.  The semi-retired Pawtucket resident has joined 4,500 senior volunteers in Rhode Island who give time to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.  This federally funded program, authorized by Congress in 1971, helps people age 55 and older put their skills and live experience to work in their communities.  RSVP volunteers serve in a wide variety of organizations ranging from hospitals and nursing homes, youth recreational centers to local police stations, historic sites to education facilities.

         Serving as an RSVP volunteer at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, Catineault has taken on the role of a friendly visitor an elderly woman.  “I took her out to visit different nursing homes,” said the RSVP volunteer, noting that a tour of these facilities allowed her older companion to have a choice in the selection of a facility.   Additionally, Catineault has served meals at the Pawtucket senior center and has assisted another homebound elderly person with shopping, banking, and housework.

         “I volunteer with RSVP because I enjoy helping people out,” Catineault tells The Times.  “I thought about doing this for years and now that I have a few extra hours, I do it.  When we visit seniors it gives them something to look forward to, a little lift for the day and makes them feel important,” she said.

          At the RSVP program, sponsored by Blackstone Valley Community Action Program (BVCAP), there are 43 volunteer sites throughout Pawtucket,Central Falls, Lincoln and Cumberland, noted Caleb Petrin, the nonprofit community action program’s RSVP Director. 

         According to Petrin, 183 seniors age 55 and over have signed up to give their time at 43 volunteer sites throughout Pawtucket,Central Falls,LincolnandCumberland.  These seniors put in approximately 6,000 volunteer hours in nursing homes, churches, senior centers, meal sites, historic sites, like Slater Mill, hospitals, along with assisting in educational outreach initiatives, tutoring and mentoring.

        From his office at BVCAP, Petrin along with a part-time staffer determine community needs, design programs, and finally recruit and place RSVP volunteers.  “Our RSVP program is specifically designed to get seniors to become more involved and to have a stake in their community,” he said, noting that the volunteers bring their life experiences and skills to improve the quality of life at the volunteer sites.

         Senior RSVP volunteers are recognized in a newsletter and at an annual recognition dinner, Petrin noted, adding that the event serves as a way for volunteers to share with each other their positive volunteer experiences.

         “One of our newest volunteer stations is atPawtucket’s Slater Mill Historic Site,” Petrin said.  “Now we have two RSVP volunteers who provide information about the historic mill  to visitors. These positions are going to be evolving from providing information into helping with programming and interpretation,” he added.   

       Vin Marzullo, Rhode Island Director of the Corporation for National Service, an independent federal agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s domestic volunteer programs and RSVP states that other RSVP offices are located in Cranston, East Providence, South Kingston, Providence, Kent County and Woonsocket.

       Marzullo stated that volunteer service time is valued at $ 13 per hour.  Thus, he calculates that volunteer service provided by 4,500 Rhode Island RSVP volunteers is valued at $6.5 million.

        RSVP volunteers are playing a tremendous community problem-solving role.   “The reality is our seniors are experienced, knowledgeable of the community and they’ve addressed so many life challenges and situations.  They can help so many people in need if they are given the opportunity, Marzullo said.

        Marzullo firmly believes that RSVP allows older Americans to be valued and continue their contributions to their communities. 

        Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based free lance writer covering aging, medical and health care issues.  This article was published in July 2, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at