YWCA RSVP: Honoring Those Who Serve

The best way to honor those who serve is to follow their example and offer service in return. Such service is the purpose of YWCA RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program). RSVP volunteers number almost 600 strong. They spend their time serving almost 70 non-profits in McLean County. Their generosity adds up annually to approximately $1.42 million and provides more than 52,000 hours of service.

RSVP volunteers do everything from stuffing envelopes and answering phones, to sewing blankets and backpacks for those in need, to supplying snacks for underserved school-age children. Most recently, RSVP volunteers were asked to help paint and create ornaments for the Fallen Hero Trees of Honor sponsored by America’s Gold Star Families Organization (AGSF) ) and the Sgt. Anthony R. Maddox Memorial.

In October 2019, YWCA RSVP was contacted to partner with and serve AGSF as a new “station” or non-profit volunteer location. Non-profits who need volunteers contact YWCA RSVP and then RSVP reaches out to their talented group of volunteers over age 55 to fill their need.

“The opportunity to partner with America’s Gold Star Families came to us through a YWCA Board Member, Frances Maddox,” said Vicki Hightower, senior director of Adult Services at YWCA McLean County. “Frances not only gives her time at YWCA but also to the America’s Gold Star Families Organization.”

AGSF was founded in 2013 and their mission is to provide honor, hope, and healing to those grieving any military loss through active duty service in the United States Armed Forces, including all branches of service and representing all conflicts.

The Opportunity

Every year since 2016, Frances Maddox and her husband, Jerome, have worked to honor and remember all United States Armed Forces soldiers whose lives ended in service to their country. They do this in honor of their son, Sgt. Anthony R. Maddox, who died while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2013.

Each Christmas season, three Fallen Heroes Trees of Honor, located in the Peoria Riverfront Museum, Peoria, IL; Central Illinois Regional Airport, Bloomington, IL; and Decatur Civic Center, Decatur, IL; are adorned with ornaments—each representing a soldier who is gone, but not forgotten.

Bloomington’s tree featured more than 275 ornaments representing military servicemen and women from all branches of service and conflicts, and represented more than 40 states. Decatur’s tree held more than 150 hand-crafted ornaments representing soldiers from all branches of service and conflicts, and represented more than 40 states.

Peoria’s tree stood the tallest at 14 feet high and held nearly 300 ornaments for fallen military heroes, from all branches of service and conflicts, and represented more than 40 states. This past Christmas, 70 new ornaments were needed to be created. And with this overwhelming number in mind, Frances paired her two passions and asked RSVP to help create the ornaments.

RSVP volunteers, Blue Star Moms (has a child serving), and Gold Star Moms (lost a child serving) joined together on a sunny October day to create a tangible remembrance for soldiers gone too soon.

The women came together with a common desire to serve. They not only served the men and women who were represented on the ornaments, but also each other. Some left with a new appreciation for strength, some with a renewed thankfulness for kindness, but all left knowing they served others.

The Outcome

“It was beyond an honor to help in such a small way,” said Pat King, YWCA RSVP volunteer. “I am not sure how they get through something like that [losing a child] and are able to move forward in a kind, loving, giving, and gracious way. This was an experience that will stay with me a long time.”

The team of RSVP volunteers and AGSF volunteers hand painted and decorated more than 70 Fallen Hero Tree ornaments in preparation for the three Fallen Hero Tree of Honor ceremonies that took place in central Illinois during November 2019.

While this is a noble cause, it is but only one day of the year. The opportunities to serve in our community are countless.

The Countless Ways to Serve

Among the many hidden gems of our community are the people who selflessly spend their days and nights serving others. They do this at their own cost and at no personal gain. Here are a couple recurring ways RSVP volunteers are able to serve.

YWCA RSVP serves not only as a collection point for the Operation Santa comfort items needed to fill Christmas stockings, but RSVP volunteers also sew the stockings. Operation Santa is the largest stocking drive in the nation. Approximately two to three weeks before Thanksgiving, stockings are stuffed and shipped to all branches of our Armed Forces serving around the globe. Operation Santa has sent almost 250,000 Christmas stockings to our deployed troops.

In 2019, RSVP volunteers made 876 stockings and contributed 1,925 comfort items to Operation Santa. RSVP volunteers also support the Snacks for Students program. This program provides snacks for underserved classrooms at elementary schools in our community. During 2019, volunteers served eight teachers and 101 students.

“When you’re six years old and hungry, it’s hard to focus on reading,” said first grade teacher Cynthia Williams. “So, somewhere down the line, you [volunteers] helped an entire class of first graders learn to read!”

Before RSVP filled this need, teachers would fund snacks personally. Williams, who teaches at Bent Elementary School, said she is now able to spend more of her money on large floor puzzles, Mobilo blocks for indoor recess days, and prizes for her treasure chest. 

Benefits of Serving With YWCA RSVP

YWCA RSVP is part of Senior Corps, a network of national service programs that provide Americans age 55 and older the opportunity to apply their life experience to meeting community needs.

At YWCA RSVP, we help you put your skills and life experiences to work for McLean County by facilitating volunteering through carefully matched placement and providing follow-up support. You choose how and where you want to serve, how much time you want to give, and whether you want to share skills you have or develop new ones.

Benefits of Serving Through YWCA RSVP

  • Community involvement: While volunteering you will learn about your community and non-profit agencies.
  • Potential mileage reimbursement: You can submit your miles traveled while traveling to and from your volunteer site for potential mileage reimbursement. 
  • Supplemental insurance: As an RSVP member, you will be covered by supplemental insurance (personal liability, surplus automobile liability, and accident) when you volunteer. 
  • Volunteer recognition: YWCA RSVP celebrates your accomplishments and honors the volunteer work you do.
  • Giving back is good for you: those who volunteer frequently live longer and report better health. Volunteering can also lead to more friendships and a more positive attitude.

How RSVP Works

To sign-up for YWCA RSVP, please visit us at www.ywcamclean.org/RSVP or call 309-662-0461, ext. 249 to schedule a time to meet with staff and discover the interests and skills you’d like to share with our community. You are in control—you tell us how often you want to volunteer, i.e. one time for a special project or once a week. The choice is yours. When volunteer requests come in that fit your outlined interests, you will be contacted by an RSVP staff member and you can commit to make a difference for a local nonprofit.

Service. Honor. Commitment. 

Separately, these words can be associated with a number of different people and professions. But together, they always represent YWCA RSVP volunteers.

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