Library volunteers honored as RSVP nears end

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Roberta Rice, center, shows off her Presidential Award for logging nearly 1,200 volunteer hours at the East Bonner County Library District through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. The award was presented to her Wednesday morning at Panhandler Pies. RSVP participant and library volunteer Marge Thomas, not pictured, was also awarded. Pictured, from left, Bob Small, RSVP director with the Area Agency on Aging; Annette Anderson, library volunteer coordinator; library volunteers Roberta Rice and Lynn Piper; and library Human Resources manager Craig Hofmeister. (Photo by MARY MALONE)

SANDPOINT — Marge Thomas, Lynn Piper and Roberta Rice are long-time participants of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, dedicating their time to the East Bonner County Library District.

For their service of more than 1,000 hours in the program, Thomas and Rice received RSVP Presidential awards for their service.

"I don't get up here as much as I would like, but your volunteerism is appreciated just as much as anyone anywhere else in the five northern counties," Bob Small, RSVP director with the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho, told Piper and Rice during a breakfast honoring the volunteers Wednesday at Panhandler Pies.

Thomas was unable to attend the honoree breakfast, but she has volunteered 1,775 hours in the program, which is worth  $37,452 to the community, Small said. Rice logged 1,188 hours with the program, worth more than $25,066.

"It's amazing what volunteers do," Small said as he presented Rice a letter of recognition from President Donald Trump, a gold medal, a certificate from the White House and a certificate from the Area Agency on Aging.

Annette Anderson, volunteer coordinator for the library, and Craig Hofmeister, human resources manager for the library, also joined the group for breakfast.

Rice said she is a "high stress" person, so when she retired, she had a lot of plans.

"But I kind of felt like I fell off the wheel somehow, like I wasn't involved," Rice said. "And I really decided that's what I had to do to make my life better was to get involved back with my community."

"Roberta is very passionate about what she does," Anderson said.

According to RSVP data, proven health benefits for volunteer seniors include improved physical and mental health, reduced chronic pain, reduced depression and anxiety, increased self-esteem, improved quality of life and social interaction, and a longer lifespan.

While the program has helped seniors 55 and older reap these benefits for 45 years, the volunteers are bidding farewell to the program and its director as the grant funding for RSVP ends March 31. It is unfortunate, Small said, to see the program go, because it has been successful. Last year, more than 600 volunteers in the program logged more than 89,000 hours, he said.

"That was worth $1,875,000 to the communities," Small said. "That's why it is sad to see it go away."

North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene is the sponsoring agency for the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho, however RSVP is a nationwide program. RSVP participants nationwide serve anywhere from a few to more than 40 hours a week in a variety of organizations that range from hospitals and youth recreation centers to local police stations and education facilities.

Small said there are several volunteers in the program throughout Bonner County, including eight in Priest River who help out in the West Bonner Library District and the Priest River Happy Agers Senior Center. Other participants in the Sandpoint area include volunteers of Luther Park, Small said, who visit clients with no family support.

Hofmeister said Rice, who has been volunteering at the library since 2012, is also a tutor and helps seniors at Luther Park with technology, such as cellphones.

"I love teaching people who are willing to learn," said Rice, who is also a former librarian and teacher.

Anderson said Thomas has been a library volunteer since around 1994 and Piper has been a volunteer since 2001. There are no records from the old library to determine how many hours Thomas has actually volunteered, Anderson said.

"There are so many things we could never do at the library if we didn't have the volunteers," Anderson said. "There are tons of programs that just wouldn't exist."

Although it is the end of an era as the program comes to a close, many volunteers, such as Piper and Rice, will continue serving their communities.

"It's kind of like a family," Piper said. "The only thing I missed when I stopped working for money was the community of the workplace. This can kind of replace that."

Anderson said there is still a resource in the area for volunteers of any age through Volunteer Idaho Panhandle. Information on VIP can be found at sandpointcommunityresource.com.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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