There are several little-known programs around this area and across the country that provide lots of benefit to millions of people. They are the Foster Grandparent Program, Senior Companion Program and RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) collectively known as Senior Corps (related to AmeriCorps). Each of these efforts involves volunteers over 55 years of age who provide vital support in our communities.
In our county, we are blessed, yes blessed to have these wonderful individuals who are members of Chautauqua County RSVP and Lutheran Foster Grandparent Program. Lutheran has graciously sponsored RSVP since 1975 and Foster Grandparent Program since 1983.
The Foster Grandparent Program pairs senior volunteers with "in-need" and special needs children in schools serving Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. The presence of a Foster Grandparent has marked improvement on the reading skills, school attendance and behavior of the 200-plus children whom they mentor. Without Foster Grandparents, local schools, Head Start Projects and Pre-Elementary agencies would not be able to provide or pay for the individual attention that these children need in order to keep up with their peers. You can never underestimate the power of a constant adult in a child's life!
Through Chautauqua County RSVP, seniors across the county are connected to volunteer opportunities at 90 local organizations. Not only does RSVP ensure that senior volunteers' skills are best matched to a local organization, it also guarantees that volunteers' time is put to use satisfying whatever unique needs their communities may have. Additionally, senior volunteers reap the mental and physical benefits of remaining active.
In the current 2015 budget proposal from President Obama, each of these programs will be cut (RSVP suffering the worst with the elimination of 66 percent of its federal funding). These cuts fly in the face of common sense. These programs being threatened to be cut, save money by keeping mature adults actively engaged (remember, our many, many baby boomers) with purposeful service. This service enhances their ability to remain active and living independently in their homes and out of long-term care facilities. Volunteers are instrumental in helping children catch up with their peers academically and collectively address many community needs.
As more and more Americans reach 55 years of age (in the US, 10,000 are turning 55 each day) we need avenues where they can participate and help solve problems in their communities. Senior Corps programs are part of that solution. I urge those in Congress to oppose this aspect of the administration's 2015 proposed budget. I urge everyone to write to their Senators (Schumer and Gillibrand) or Congressman (Reed) to ask that they oppose these changes and cuts in funding to Senior Corps (sister programs to AmeriCorps and part of the Corporation for National and Community Service).
In these challenging days, we need the wisdom and heartfelt efforts of those elders willing to volunteer to help struggling nonprofits achieve their goals. Volunteers help make our communities better.
Debbie Basile is the project director of Chautauqua County RSVP and the Lutheran Foster Grandparent Program.