A program that boasts more than 300,000 nationwide is becoming more prevalent in Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland and Runnels Counties. The Retired Service Volunteer Program (RSVP), a part of Senior Corps, is the country’s largest volunteer network for people 55 and over, allowing seniors to apply skills and wisdom acquired throughout life to make a positive difference in the life of others.

RSVP falls under the umbrella of Central Texas Opportunities doing business as Cornerstone Community Agency, formerly known simply as Central Texas Opportunities.

Willena Benson, 70, of Brownwood is the volunteer coordinator for the program. “I can’t enjoy retirement. I tried it twice,” Benson explained. “This is a great program. I get to work with, be around and talk to people and find places for them to volunteer.”

Literature states areas that can be volunteered in are disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures and veterans and military families. Locally, volunteers can be placed with Brown County Home Solutions, Brownwood Community Garden and the Ark. “We don’t have anyone placed at the Ark yet, but I have also been speaking to Eric (Evans) at the Lyric Theater and other places as well,” Benson said.

Volunteers can also be placed at the Cornerstone offices and with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Benson’s husband Dennis is a part of the VITA team. “VITA does not have an age restriction like RSVP,” Benson said. “We have a high school student that is a part. We would like to have more. With VITA, everyone receives IRS certification which is a great thing for a resume.”

A “perk” of being a part of RSVP, Benson said, is mileage reimbursement. “A good example is the Meals on Wheels programs in Cisco and Ballinger. The volunteers are paid mileage from their home to their volunteer station, while they are delivering meals and back home.” Each volunteer keeps a monthly mileage log and then, each quarter, they are given a check. Supplemental insurance coverage on each vehicle and individual is also offered at no charge to the volunteer. With a smile, Benson discussed an action many of the volunteers take. “Many volunteers volunteer just for the love of being able to help and end up giving back their mileage check to the station they work at.”

A five-county coverage area requires a lot of traveling for Benson. In order to draw interest to the program, she gives presentations to different groups and civic organizations. “I also just talk to people on the street,” Benson said. “I just ask if they would be willing to donate time. And volunteers are volunteers. There is no minimum amount of time required. They can volunteer as much or as little as they want. They can also work in more than one area.” Different opportunities are available in each county.

Thirty-one volunteers were registered when Benson became the coordinator in May of 2019. That number has increased to more than 80 in the last 10 months. Benson believes that number will continue to rise. “I have research that shows that when some retire from their job, they also retire from life,” Benson said. “When someone flat quits, becomes stagnant, does nothing, the body starts to deteriorate because it thinks your done. This program can help change that. There are so many different ways to be able to volunteer.”

If interested in learning more about RSVP, VITA or the other programs offered by Cornerstone, call 325-625-4167.