The RSVP program trains adults ages 55+ to share knowledge on important subjects with their peers to help them to make informed decisions and choices with confidence. Topics range from disaster preparedness to managing your medications to healthy sexuality to how to use public transportation systems (known as travel training). Some volunteers are former educators or advocates, but all are people who display passion, drive, and sincerity. They demonstrate the desire to help and to teach others on topics that matter, like taking MARTA.
I was able to chat with a volunteer trainer in our RSVP program, Patricia Jackson, along with a participant in RSVP travel training, Clara Wilder. Clara learned how to use the MARTA trains and buses as well as the Atlanta Streetcar from her home in Decatur through the help of RSVP volunteers and staff program assistant, Nicola Williams, whose focus is recruiting and training volunteers as well as promoting RSVP.
Megan Malasarte: What motivated you to join RSVP and, how long have you been a part of it?
Patricia Jackson (volunteer): It’s probably been a few months now, less than six. I wanted to join because I used to be a public speaker for DeKalb County, and I wanted to take that gift I had cultivated, use it, and give it back to others. I’m excited about all the different things you can learn [as a trainer] and in turn, impart that information to people.
I used to be the manager at the Lithonia Senior Center for seven years. I had heard about the program before, but I didn’t know everything that was involved with it. I am not working there [the Lithonia Senior Center] anymore, but I do a lot of volunteering, like this, along with attending classes.
MM: Describe what occurs during the travel training sessions.
Clara Williams (training participant): For this one, they had to get me down to MARTA Headquarters to get me a [discounted senior] pass. Nicola showed us how to take the trolley that day. We took it and went down to the Sweet Auburn Market, walked around that area, and ended up at Georgia State. Then, I took the train and made it all the way back to Decatur.
This experience allowed us to feel like we can do this on our leisure time, go wherever we want, and feel secure like we can do it on our own. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to sit around at home, so it gives me a sense of independence. I felt very safe doing this.
MM: Who should consider attending or requesting a travel training session?
CW: I’ve recommended them to people I already know! It’s one of those things I bring up in conversation. I’ve asked myself why this [riding MARTA] isn’t done more often because it’s so helpful!
MM: What new knowledge have you gained from volunteering?
PJ: Of course, I have learned more about riding MARTA. That was an eye-opening experience for me as a volunteer since I didn’t even realize the discounted card for seniors was available. I learned a lot of tricks about how to ride the train and bus. The fear to take it is not there anymore, and I feel empowered to use it more often. I encourage everyone to take it! I make sure I sit next to the driver, and I’ve downloaded the MARTA app on my phone.
In addition, the social isolation class [I took as a participant before becoming a volunteer] was a great class, and the benefits…oh my gosh. That class really helped me, and I know I’ll be introducing that class to some of our seniors.
MM: Can you tell us about your most memorable RSVP experience thus far?
CW: The whole day I described earlier was memorable to me. It was exciting. We were all just having a good time. It really was a great experience for me.
MM: What advice would you give someone considering volunteering with RSVP?
PJ: This would be something that would help benefit you as well as enable you to give back to others. And it doesn’t take too much time out of your schedule. You determine the trainings you can go to or the ones you can’t.
I’ve already gotten a few people to sign up to volunteer! I tell them it allows you to keep busy, but more importantly, you get to socialize and meet other people. Go to places you haven’t been before. All the classes that I’ve taken so far are empowering. That’s why I love these classes. I feel a new sense of inspiration and empowerment.
There are just so many benefits to joining RSVP. My knowledge base is growing, and I’m excited for what can be. Looking forward to 2020!
Learn more about volunteering with the RSVP program. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, fill out this form to be contacted, or contact Nicola Williams at (470) 378-1447 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for our next RSVP Open House.