Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.
By SHAJIA AHMAD
Each day at Florence Wilson Elementary School, Marsha Valentine helps young students check books in and out, return books to their rightful place on the shelves, and assists the school's sole librarian with daily tasks.
But that's not all.
The 68-year-old retired nurse and western Kansas native said she aims to share her own lifelong love for reading with the youngsters, too.
"I love books. I pick one up every now and then when I get a moment, and I read. And then I recommend them to the children — they like that," Valentine, now in her third year of volunteering full time, said. "I've got several of the girls introduced to Nancy Drew. ... A lot of the kids nowadays have never heard of (her)."
Valentine, who retired about three years ago, is just one of hundreds of residents age 55 and older who remain active in the community and provide valuable services to various nonprofit, health and other public agencies through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.
Better known as RSVP, the senior volunteer agency is one of 21 agencies and programs that are receiving funds from the Finney County United Way's annual fundraising campaign.
This year's United Way goal is $550,000, and if the fundraising agency is successful, RSVP, which operates out of the Senior Center of Finney County, 907 N. 10th St., will receive $20,800 from the campaign for 2013.
Those funds are slated to benefit the agency's overall operations and comprises about a quarter of the agency's annual budget, according to Marty Dinkel, RSVP's director.
Dinkel, who said RSVP has been a United Way partner for nearly three decades, said 364 volunteers donated 60,544 hours in 2011.
The average age of an RSVP volunteer was 78 last year, but volunteers range from 55 to their 90s and give to agencies across the community, according to Dinkel.
"Our volunteers sell the tickets out at the (community) college for basketball games. A lot of people don't realize that, but that's our volunteers handing out the programs and manning the ticket booth," Dinkel said. "We help volunteers at the (Finney County) museum, answering phones, and we have a couple who answer the phone lines at Family Crisis (Services) because it's a passion of theirs."
Some RSVP volunteers are homebound but still find time to volunteer, Dinkel said. Some of them help out local school teachers by cutting out laminated classroom materials to save the time of many elementary school teachers.
"One particular volunteer, she is disabled and stays at home. But after a teacher told me she was perhaps giving (the volunteer) too much stuff to do, she said 'No, actually it helps me from getting depressed,' from having to be at home and thinking too long about my health, my everyday life, my finances," Dinkel said. "It's a win-win for that volunteer at home, it keeps her busy, and she feels like she's giving back to the community. And, in return, it's helping our teachers out, too."
For Valentine, who spends seven to eight hours each day assisting at the school library at Florence Wilson, volunteering is more than rewarding, it's helped the Garden Citian find her "niche."
The RSVP volunteer said that despite her lifelong career in the health field, she sometimes dreamt of being a librarian or teacher, and the volunteer opportunity has allowed her to fulfill that desire in her life.
In addition to volunteering daily at the library, Valentine has given her time to tutor at literacy nights for various elementary schools, volunteered in the annual Tumbleweed Festival, and offered her services at Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo's annual Boo! at the Zoo event, just to name a few.
Valentine said they're all opportunities she credits the RSVP program for bringing to her attention.
"I probably wouldn't have even have thought about it or known how to go about doing. It's just a wonderful program, and it's too bad more elderly people don't realize it's there," she said. "I've enjoyed every one of (my volunteer opportunities). There isn't one place they've sent me that I wouldn't go back to."
The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 United Way annual campaign are the same as this year.
They include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.
Finney County RSVP
Contact: Marty Dinkel, director
Address: Senior Center of Finney County, 907 N. 10th St.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday