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News from RSVP

October 2013:  Read About Day of Service 9/11 and see photos.

September 2013:  See photos and read about Tribute Day 2013 held at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

July 2013:  Read Volunteers' Accounts of the Veteran's Golden Age Games Held in Buffalo this season.

June 2013:  Carrie Smith of RSVP Awarded Gretchen Stringer Award by VAWNY
April 2013:  New Site: Matt Urban Hope Center
April 2013:  New Site: SCENe - Springville Concord Elder Network 

RSVP's  Carrie Ann Smith Named 2013 WNY Volunteer Administrator of the Year!

May 15, 2013 was a very special day as RSVP Volunteer Coordinator Carrie Ann Smith was named the Gretchen E. Stringer Volunteer Administrator of the Year by the Volunteer Administrators of Western New York.  Carrie received her award at a lovely ceremony held in the stately boardroom in the American Red Cross Chapter headquarters on Delaware Avenue.Carrie Smith receives award

Did you know that Carrie began her career in service as an AmeriCorps member?  She led and supervised hundreds of volunteers for episodic events, national days of service, and community revitalization projects including the Extreme Makeover project here in Buffalo.  She also supervised a team of volunteers in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath in New Orleans addressing critical human and community needs for a 30 day deployment. In recognition of her leadership skills and dedication to service, she received the National Service Award, presented by Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC. 

The Gretchen Stringer Committee Selection Committee reviewed nominations submitted by almost a dozen nonprofit organizations.  The Committee members were very impressed by how much Carrie has accomplished as a young professional at AmeriCorps and RSVP, and noted her strengths in choosing Carrie as this year’s Award recipient:   

  • Carrie is absolutely committed to the value of volunteer service, and the potential for dedicated and skilled volunteers to improve our community.  She is able to inspire others to serve, whether through her presentations, orientations, or even e-mails.  
  • Carrie has respect for the gifts of each volunteer, and an understanding of what it takes to help a volunteer find a satisfying volunteer opportunity to match their interests and skills.  
  • Carrie can absorb a lot of information and use it to make good decisions – whether trying to match the skills and interests of hundreds of RSVP volunteers; finding appropriate volunteers to fill the many different needs of 100 volunteer sites, or meeting the changing priorities and regulations of funding agencies. 
  • Carrie is a team player who listens to others, and follows through.  She has gained the respect of co-workers in the Department of Senior Services, the RSVP Advisory Council, and the RSVP volunteer supervisors and especially the RSVP volunteers.  
  • Carrie is flexible and adaptable.  She stepped into RSVP from working with mostly young adults in hands-on settings such as disasters, delivering food, etc.  She quickly learned about working with older volunteers. 
  • Carrie is the new face of Volunteer Coordinator:  an individual who is smart, connected, and tech-savvy, but who keeps that human connection essential to effective volunteer recruitment, retention and recognition.  Carrie approaches her job as a volunteer coordinator with a big heart and generous spirit, a strong sense of our mission, and a vision what volunteers can accomplish with the right support. 

We congratulate Carrie --- and wish her many more successes along the way in her career in the field of volunteer management!   The Award is named for Gretchen Stringer, a WNY native and a dedicated and beloved community volunteer and consultant who was a local and national pioneer in the field of volunteer management.  The Award is given annually to the VAWNY member who best exemplifies the characteristics of a professional volunteer administrator. 


Save the Date! - Tribute Day 2013

Tribute Day 2012 at the Buffalo Zoo was a great success, and many of the volunteers and volunteer supervisors who attended said it was our best Tribute Day ever!  So we are excited to announce that Tribute Day 2013 will be held at another one of Buffalo’s great cultural treasures, the Buffalo Museum of Science on Wednesday, September 18! 

Tribute Day 2013 will be an afternoon of recognition, learning, refreshments, music, and camaraderie.  As an extra-special bonus, Tribute Day will include free admission to the new Body Worlds Vital exhibit for all RSVP volunteers who have contributed 40 hours or more in the previous 12 months.  Read more below about this fascinating exhibit which just opened on May 31: 

Body Worlds Vital tells the fascinating story how to best fight, manage and prevent life-threatening diseases -- Body Worldssuch as cancer, diabetes, and heart ailments -- through healthy choices and lifestyle changes. Dr. Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS exhibitions display authentic human bodies, willed by donors and preserved through plastination. The series is designed to educate the public about the human body and increase health awareness.

Invitations to Tribute Day 2013 will be sent in August.  If you have any questions about how many hours you have submitted to RSVP, just call us at 858-7548.  There still time to increase your hours through the many one-time and ongoing volunteer events coming up this summer.  Check out the RSVP Spotlight list on our website, and sign up today!  

RSVP Goes International

In 2012, the RSVP program received an e-mail from a young Japanese journalist, Erina Ito, who was traveling to the United States to do a story about organizations that encourage and support volunteerism among older adults.  She wrote:  The title of my series of articles will be “The senior volunteer in USA” and is scheduled to be published on November by the Asahi Newspaper. It is a comparative study of how various developed countries including England, France, Switzerland, etc are dealing with the issue of a rapidly aging society. This issue is particular relevant in my country, Japan.   This article will analyze the approaches that other developed countries have taken to deal with issues that necessarily arise from societies.  By learning from other countries successes and failure, we can hope to implement a more efficient system here in Japan.  It would be my honor and great pleasure to cover your active senior volunteer for my readers here in Japan. 

Erina visited Erie County RSVP for 2 days in October 2012, and went on a whirlwind tour to meet RSVP volunteers in action.  As soon as she landed, she interviewed Bill Hale, a Hospitality Ambassador at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, then visited our 90-year-old Fitness leader, Ann Constantino, who demonstrated how she jumps rope like a boxer!  After that, Erina accompanied Bill and Dawn Kieser, a husband and wife team on their route to deliver meals.  She went to meet Mike Petrinec, a Buffalo Zoo docent who was showing sea turtles to entranced pre-schoolers.  Last, she attended a University Express class on the Underground Railroad given by Eva Doyle, a retired Buffalo Public School teacher who is also a published historian.  That evening, Erina got a chance to sample Buffalo chicken wings and stand in the mist on Goat Island at Niagara Falls. Erina visited programs in New England and Arizona, and wrote one last e-mail before boarding the plane back to Japan:  I am now in LA international airport, leaving for JAPAN soon.  It was really wonderful time to meet you and active volunteers in Buffalo.  That was the best of the best time in USA for me.

Erina sent photos and several copies of the Asahi newspaper with the large article.  All of the photos included in the article were of Erie County RSVP volunteers!  Here’s the translation of the article.

 RSVP Reaches Out to Veterans

At the WNY Resources Summit for Female Veterans and Service Members, RSVP volunteersapril women veterans provided hospitality for more than 200 women who had come to learn more about VA benefits, as well as business development and social security, health information, as well as child, legal, financial and county services.  The event was held at Medaille College on Saturday, April 13.   Volunteers helped with registration, directing and lunch preparation and service. The Whole Hog food truck provided a delicious barbecue lunch.  This is the first year for this event and the planners expect to have much more participation next year.

Organizer Celia O'Brien said, "Women veterans often will not ask for help, but they're most likely the ones that have the highest unemployment, underemployment rates. They are most likely to be single mothers. They make up 10% of the homeless and at-risk (for being) homeless population."

RSVP volunteer Eileen Wagner wrote:  “It was very inspiring to see the dedicated ladies of all ages coming together for this informational event. Many wore fatigues and there was a strong sense of camaraderie among them. There were many informational tables set up and even a free massage!” 


The Games Are On!

The long-anticipated National Veterans Golden Age Games officially opened with ceremonies held on Thursday, May 30 at the Convention Center South Hall.  

But the day before Opening Day, RSVP volunteers already were offering their service at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport as the veteran athletes began arriving for their exciting week in Buffalo to compete in the Games.  RSVP volunteer Rick Speth was among the volunteers at the airport, greeting the vets as they arrived. He wrote:  "The reception committee brought smiles to lots of faces as they exited the security area. I met one of the original Tuskeege Airmen along with many other WWII vets."

RSVP Advisory Council members Lisa Binsley, Scott Laughlin, Rose Marie Hall, and Susan Siegel and RSVP Director Pat Dowling signed on to score and act as “water-bearers” at the Croquet competition held at the athletic fields at Nichols School on Saturday, June 1.  We arrived at 7am for our training, and soon found out that croquet as played by the rules is much more complicated and strategic than the game that many of us had played in our backyards.  It is rather like a cross between billiards, golf, and backgammon, as players try to hit through the course as quickly as possible, with as few strokes, and while trying to thwart opponents along the way. 

Vets croquetFour regulation croquet lanes had been set up in the lawns surrounding Nichols, with a beautiful blue sky overhead.  Many of the veteran athletes had competed in croquet at several previous National Games, and were delighted at the conditions.  They reminisced and joked about one particular venue where the croquet event was staged in an overgrown field amidst tall weeds and deep ruts.  Looking out at the nicely rolled lawn, they agreed, “This is pure luxury!”

In the first round, a Vietnam veteran athlete from Texas clearly demonstrated that his skill at competitive croquet, and easily won that round.  He confided that he had taken the Gold medal in the past, and was determined to do it again this time.  “This is the last time that Croquet will be offered as a Games event, and it sure would be nice to take home the Gold!” 

We also met veterans from Hawaii, Oklahoma, Indiana, and even Alaska.  When we introduced ourselves as Buffalo natives, we received a round of applause for coming out, and for the great experience that the athletes were enjoying in Buffalo. 

At lunchtime, the volunteers and athletes were treated to a sumptuous lunch with hotdogs, “lazy pierogi”, vegetables, fruits and homemade cookies, courtesy of Region 9 UAW Veterans Committee.  And standing behind the table serving was RSVP volunteer Gayle Grabowski! 

Raising Hope in a Buffalo Neighborhood

On Buffalo’s East Side, the once-magnificent Central Terminal is slowly coming back to life due to efforts of a group of determined volunteers and community leaders who decided that this architectural gem was worth saving.   While the Terminal serves as a daily reminder of this neighborhood’s pride, rich history, and the possibility for a brighter future, directly across the street at 385 Paderewski Drive, the Matt Urban Hope Center responds to the many needs of this neighborhood as it struggles with homelessness, high poverty rates, deteriorating housing, and unemployment. If you are flexible, energetic, and interested in the future of Buffalo’s great neighborhoods, consider becoming a volunteer at the Hope Center. 

Like to organize?  Enjoy special events?  Help with the Center’s family-focused events and informative workshops – such as a recent Black History Month speaker series.

Fashion-forward?  –At the Professional Clothing Closet, help individuals in the Center’s Job Readiness Program put together work-appropriate outfits, including that all-important interview outfit.

Known for your dinner parties?  Welcome people who are hungry and homeless to the Urban Diner, a restaurant-style “soup kitchen” complete with checkered tablecloths with china settings, where a hostess greets and seats diners, servers delivers the dinners, beverage and desserts.  In partnership with Friends of Night People, Monday - Friday from 3-5 pm. 

The Center also is in urgent need of volunteers who enjoy office work such as answering phones and computer work, or scheduling and organizing volunteers for the many projects.  If you would like to volunteer at the Matt Urban Hope Center, call RSVP at 858-7548.

SCENe – Seniors Helping (High School) Seniors - New RSVP Site!

What happens when you bring together teenagers and older adults?  At Springville-Griffith Institute (SGI) high school in Springville, the answer is new learning, new understanding, and new relationships.  It’s a result of creative new intergenerational programs between the high school and the Springville Concord Elder Network (SCENe) a community-based organization made up of volunteers who dedicate themselves to helping elders remain active, respected and vital members of the community.

SCENe Coordinator, Ginny Krebs, had many conversations with older adults who wished they were more computer literate, but felt technology had become much too complex for them to catch up.  She thought about how SCENe could help.  Last semester, Ginny and another SCENe volunteer, Sharon Russell, and teacher, Nils Wikman, designed a course where area senior citizens we matched with 17- and 18-year-olds at SGI.  High school seniors in the national Honor Society taught people age 50 and older how to use computer technology.  The business teacher administrated classes, but the students’ did much of the hands-on instruction which took place after school in the high school computer lab.  The older adults most wanted to learn to use social media, email, and Skype in order to connect with friends, children and grandchildren, when distance or busy schedules keep them apart.  “For people who have mobility issues or no longer drive, secure Internet banking and shopping can help them remain independent.  Students have grown up with this technology. Students and older folks have a natural affinity for each other. It turned out to be a perfect match”, says Krebs.  The class filled up quickly, with 20 older adults on a waiting list.  Students and seniors thoroughly enjoyed the class and the chance to get to know each other, so Ginny began thinking about other ways to continue building relationships between the high school students and SCENe volunteers…  

What if older adults had an opportunity to share their skills with the students?    Many students have one or more study halls during the school day, and spend lots of time texting or playing video games.   Although technology-savvy, today’s students often have little opportunity to learn crafts like knitting or crocheting, or the rules and strategies of traditional games like Chess or Scrabble.   SCENe is currently recruiting 6 – 8 older adult volunteers willing to share the fun and joy of such activities.  Starting in May, classes will be held two day per week, during two one-hour study hall periods, 9 - 10am, and 10 - 11am.   One of the first projects will be knitting scarves in school colors of purple and gold!  If you’re interested in being part of this intergenerational effort, call RSVP at 858-7548.

Spring University Express FREE Classes Are Near You!  Something for Everyone!

Specially designed for older adult learners over the age of 55, University Express offers so many topics, there’s something for everyone!  See why our students rave about the FREE (no charge!) University Express classes. Learning has no age limit!  Our classes cover History, WNY Heritage, Science, Literature, Art, Medicine, Psychology, Current Events, Politics and Life Enrichment.

Some of the class titles this semester: Identity Theft; Singapore; Tips for Healthy Aging; Buffalo’s Grain Elevators; Microbiology and Food Safety; Understanding and Improving Your Memory; DNA & How it Controls the Body; Mary B. Talbert-Buffalo’s Voice for Equality; Turkey as an Emerging Power; Personal Freedom and National Security; Vietnam War; Update on Medicare and Social Security; Victor Hugo, and much, much more…  This website has the full Spring catalog, or call 858-7548 to have one mailed to you.  

Science Afloat - RSVP welcomes new partner


volunteer to hlp children learn about our waterways


If you love the water and enjoy working with children, and want to encourage environmental stewardship among future generations, then this is the perfect opportunity for you! We would like to welcome our newest partner, Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education (BUOE). BUOE connects youth to the Great Lakes through quality, hands-on, standards-based environmental education on Lake Erie and in the classroom. They run various educational programs throughout the year in the classroom and out on the water aboard the beautiful and iconic Spirit of Buffalo topsail schooner. Students get a firsthand look the Great Lakes, the threats they face, the ecology, native and invasive species and more.


 Courses on the Spirit of Buffalo, the ‘Science Afloat’ program, begin in May so don’t delay! You don’t want to miss out on this rewarding and unique volunteer experience!  Call RSVP at 858-7548.


You’re invited to the Mayors Day of Recognition! Mayor Byron Brown would like to personally thank you!

To spotlight the impact of national service and thank those who serve, mayors across the country will participate in the first-ever Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service on April 9, 2013. On this day, mayors will hold public events and use traditional and social media to highlight the value and impact of national service to the nation’s cities.

Date:      April 9th
Where:   Montante Cultural Center (Canisius College), 2001 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14208
When:    Doors Open @ 2:00 p.m.    Program from 2:30 -4 p.m.

AmeriCorps and Senior Corps address the most pressing challenges facing our beloved city of Buffalo by creating more sustainable and resilient communities through their service. As volunteers, you demonstrate commitment, dedication, and patriotism by making an intensive commitment to service.

Mayor Byron W. Brown would like to honor and recognize your perseverance in your call to serve. On April 9, 2013, Mayor Brown along with over 400 Mayors nationwide will be highlighting the great work that national service members do throughout the country. The office of the Mayor will be hosting a recognition ceremony for all national service members to simply say thank you for your diligence and hard work. There will be other distinguished speakers and entertainment! Please mark your calendars to attend this ceremony.

*RSVP has been allotted 90 seats at this event. Please call 858-7548 or email to reserve your seat by Monday, April 8th.      *You are welcome to bring a guest. Please indicate so when making your reservation.  

What is the Mayors Day of Recognition?   Every day, in cities across America, national service is tackling tough problems and strengthening communities. Whether supporting food banks and homeless shelters, restoring city parks, building homes, managing community volunteers, providing health services, or tutoring and mentoring students, national service members help mayors tackle tough problems.  This initiative is being led by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; the Corporation for National and Community Service; Cities of Service; the National League of Cities, and other organizations. 


 Volunteer to Show Off Our Region

Many visitors who come to our region enjoy the hospitality of our local residents, from whom they learn about the best places to eat, best places to see, and best things to do.  As a Buffalo Ambassador, you can volunteer at events, Buffalo, NYmeet and greet our guests, and help to create a lasting impression of a genuine city full of warmth, hospitality and cultural diversity.  Ambassadors assist with conventions, conference, sporting events, and much more.  They may meet and greet, or staff tables to direct visitors to restaurants, architectural sites, and other places of interest. 

The Buffalo Ambassadors program is one of Visit Buffalo Niagara's greatest public relations tools. Buffalo Ambassadors are proud of the city they call home. They want to see Buffalo prosper and grow. They are motivated, enthusiastic and articulate, and they are willing to take an active role in the revitalization of our area.

Four volunteer trainings per year are offered. For more information, contact the RSVP office at 858-7548. 

Help Rebuild a Neighborhood at New Site - West Side Ministries!

RSVP staff Pat and Carrie recently visited a double home on 14th Street off Connecticut St. where West Side Ministries is currently rehabilitating.  The house was scheduled for demolition (and is located next to a vacant lot where another house had already been demolished) but is now being given new life.  Gary, supervisor for Westside Ministries' construction projects, showed us several sad-looking bare walls without plaster or sheetrock near the basement door, and said, "Everything looked like this when we started."  Now, the house boasts a clean, white kitchen with lots of light pouring in through new windows.  The gleaming hardwood floor has been sanded and sealed.  The walls are painted an attractive creamy ivory.  The fireplace surround is artistically fashioned from recycled materials.  Most impressive is a gorgeous wood bannister gracing the front staircase.  "I found this in the garbage after the house next door was taken down" explained Gary. 

Gary shows othrs how to trim in paint on drywall at Wes side ministriesVolunteers can get involved in a wide array of projects --- from painting and demolition, to floor refinishing and insulation.  Westside Ministries provides a hands-on and safe environment for volunteers to learn basic construction skills.  No experience is needed. College students from Daeman, Buffalo State College, and other local institutions provide much of the volunteer labor.  But Gary said that he is eager to talk to older volunteers who have time, skills, and experience.  The organization is most in need of volunteers from May through August, when the college students are on break. Volunteers are invited to help out with group projects on Thursdays, 4pm - 8pm and Saturdays, 8am - 4pm.  However, skilled volunteers are often welcome to help with specialized needs on other days. 

Come join Gary and the rehab crew as they renovate houses that may otherwise have been demolished.  You'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped a family to have a safe, affordable home, and took an active role to help revitalize one of Buffalo's great neighborhoods.  Call RSVP at 858-7548 if you're interested in volunteering with West Side Ministries.

Westside Ministries was founded in 2002 to serve Buffalo's West Side neighborhood, which has the City's third highest percentage of families living below poverty line. The West Side is also one of the most diverse populations in New York State, including many resettled refugees from Burma, Nepal, Rwanda, and other countries who are making new lives in Buffalo.  Westside Ministries' mission is to stabilize the West Side through affordable housing renovation.  The organization acquires neglected housing stock, then completes renovations with volunteer labor and a small employed crew of West Side residents.  The renovated house is then resold to first-time and low-income homebuyers at an affordable price.   The organization is currently working on its 20th house!

The Next Generation Needs Help in our Schools!

The 2012 graduation rate for the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) is 47%. One in three adults in Buffalo is illiterate. WNY employers have to hire from outside our region because the local workforce lacks skills needed in a knowledge-based economy. But there is reason for new hope. Positive change is being fostered by many schools, educators, and community organizations - and RSVP volunteers are invited to be part of this woman sits with studentschange. Through Catholic Charities’ Closing the Gap and Charles Drew Magnet School, volunteers work with students to improve reading, math and computer skills while encouraging them to realize their dreams and succeed. But much more work needs to be done! Currently, 24 more BPS teachers have requested the skilled and dedicated volunteers that only RSVP has to offer. Volunteers can work with students from Pre-K through 8th grade, at Southside Elementary, Lorraine Academy, Discovery School or Charles Drew School. 

Want to meet & mingle with other RSVP volunteers?
Join us for RSVP night at WNED Monday March 18th!

We are in need of 9 volunteers to help us answer the phones and take viewer support/pledge information from 7:45 -10 pm - training will be provided. This evening they will be airing an installment of “MAKERS: Women Who Make America" tells the remarkable story of the most sweeping social revolution in American history, as women have asserted their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy. It’s a revolution that has unfolded in public and private, in courts and Congress, in the boardroom and the bedroom, changing not only what the world expects from women, but what women expect from themselves. MAKERS brings this story to life with priceless archival treasures and poignant, often funny interviews with those who led the fight, those who opposed it, and those first generations to benefit from its success. Please reply to this email or call me at 858 -7548 to register -space is limited so don’t delay!

RSVP & Re-Competition

More than 40 years ago, Congress created RSVP to engage Americans age 55 and over in national and community service. RSVP grew to one of the largest volunteer efforts in the nation, with millions of volunteers who contribute countless hours. RSVP proved to be a clear win-win: Volunteers provide invaluable assistance to nonprofit agencies, and volunteering results in remarkable health and social benefits for older adults. For the first three decades of RSVP, some traditional volunteer assignments included serving at congregate meal programs, conducting activities at senior centers, entertaining at nursing homes and hospitals, knitting mittens and blankets, or preparing bulk mailings. Flash forward to 2009. Funding sources became much tighter. The buzzwords for federal programs became “measureable outcomes”. The Baby Boomers began to enter retirement, and seek different volunteer activities. That same year, Congress passed the Serve America Act that re-authorized national service, and initiated important changes for all national service programs (including RSVP) that receive federal funding through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

First, RSVP volunteer assignments must focus on key areas. CNCS has prioritized the following areas for national service:

  • Education
  • Energy conservation
  • Health
  • Economic opportunity
  • Disaster services
  • Engaging veterans as participants in / recipients of service.

Second, all RSVP projects will “re-compete” for federal funds. Any organization (Catholic Charities, United Way, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA) interested in sponsoring an RSVP program can submit an application. Erie County RSVP has been sponsored by Erie County Senior Services since 1971, but that could change in 2015 when we re-compete.

A significant requirement for re-competition is the extent to which volunteer assignments align with the above focus areas in the CNCS Strategic Plan. RSVP also must demonstrate that our volunteers’ service makes a measureable and impactful difference in meeting critical needs.

RSVP staff and Advisory Council have already begun the process of planning how to move forward to best serve our volunteers and our community, while aligning our local goals with the national priorities. We are extremely proud of our RSVP volunteers and awed by the hours, skills, and compassion you bring to your service. With this new mandated direction for RSVP in Erie County, we hope to become more focused and even stronger.   The RSVP newsletter in early 2013 had some additional articles about how RSVP volunteers make a difference in these focus area - read more at


Archived and older stories are linked here if you want to read more...