Virginia Goskey helps volunteers age 55 and over to utilize their talents and special skills by connecting with organizations at 40 stations in Jackson, Greer and Harmon counties.
Between April 1 and December 30 in 2008, 279 active volunteers donated 36,437 hours of time through RSVP, a Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group Inc. agency.
“If someone over 55 comes to me and wants to do some volunteering, I help place them in volunteer situations. Some already know where they want to volunteer because they have friends who volunteer,” said Goskey, RSVP director. “We could always use more volunteers. Different programs and organizations ask for volunteers with specific skills and sometimes those are hard to fill, but we keep asking people; sooner or later, we do fill them but sometimes it takes time.”
To become a volunteer, call Goskey’s office in The Towers, 101 E. Commerce, at 580-482-4141. Volunteers fill out an enrollment form to register areas of interest. They choose how, where and how often they serve; commitments range from a few hours to 40 hours per week.
A big part of RSVP is the VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) for helping families or individuals with $45,000 or less annual income fill out the basic tax return (no itemizing). For an appointment, to receive volunteer help, call:
* Monday—9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 580-482-3080, Lincoln Head Start, 900 S. Carver Rd., Altus; evening--4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., 580-482-4141, The Towers, 101 E. Commerce, Altus. (Returns will be prepared through March 31.)
* Tuesday--9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 580-482-2720, Wilson Head Start, 905 N. Willard, Altus; evenings--4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., 580-482-4141, The Towers, 101 E. Commerce, Altus. (Returns will be prepared through Feb. 28.)
* Wednesday--9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 580-482-7739, Bailey Head Start (location for tax preparation--Dept. of Human Services, 201 S. Main, Altus).
* Thursday--9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 580-535-2390, Hollis Head Start (location for tax return preparation--Harmon Dept. of Human Services, 901 E. Vivian, Hollis).
* Friday--9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., 580-782-3712, Granite Head Start (location for tax return preparation--Granite Housing Authority, 100 Locust, Granite); afternoon--3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., 580-782-3712, Mangum Head Start (location for tax-return preparation--Mangum Senior Center, 213 N. Oklahoma, Mangum).
“It’s a very big program and we are in full swing right now; we try to help individuals and families keep in their pockets all the money that is refunded to them; we don’t charge for the assistance,” Goskey said. “If it were not for the volunteers, the program would be very hard to carry out.”
VITA has 10 volunteers and could use more. Goskey and an IRS specialist from Oklahoma City present a three-day training course for volunteers and update them on changes in the 1040 tax form and tax breaks. Participants must pass a qualifying test. “When people find they are getting a refund, they say, ‘Oh, now I can pay bills and do this and that,’” Goskey said. “It’s very rewarding to our volunteers, and the VITA program makes a big difference in peoples’ lives.”
Some people in Harmon and Greer counties cannot come to Altus for tax preparation, so volunteers go to them. “When we got the $300 and $600 stimulus, two volunteers in Granite--Johnny Wilson and Marie Arradondo--went to the homes of seniors who couldn’t get out and filled out the paperwork for them to mail in for the stimulus payment. They went beyond what they were supposed to do,” Goskey said.
Each volunteer station provides the training needed for the job. Organizations with other volunteering opportunities include Jackson County Memorial Hospital—helping at the snack bar, information desk and gift shop and delivering flowers to the hospital rooms; tutors in the Literacy Program at the library; the American Red Cross; the Museum of the Western Prairie; and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). Others volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels and assist at the nutrition site and local nursing homes.
“Some people want to be on the call list for special occasions, such as the recent anti-tobacco use program speakers that needed 2,000 packages put together,” Goskey said. “So we called our volunteers. We also need volunteers for different events, like the Head Start Carnival. I pick up the phone and call and they are more than happy to help.”
A number of Greer County volunteers serve at the Mangum Christian Thrift Store. The American Legion in Mangum also spends many hours teaching patriotism at the public schools. Harmon County operates a big volunteer station at the Colonial Manor Nursing Home.
RSVP originated in 1971 as part of the Senior Corps, along with Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions. Senior Corps is administered by the Corporation for National Community Service, the federal agency that supports service and volunteering programs to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement. With funding from federal and state grants, RSVP is one of the largest senior volunteer organizations in the nation, engaging over 400,000 people age 55 and older in a diverse range of volunteer activities.
SOCAG’s RSVP program hosts an annual March recognition banquet with entertainment and door prizes at the Altus VFW headquarters to show appreciation for the volunteers. “It’s just a little something. They give a whole lot more than we give them; they make a big difference,” Goskey said.
“It’s not something they have to do; it’s something they want to do and they get the satisfaction of helping someone else; it is different individuals giving back to their community in their own way. A lot of our organizations couldn’t survive without volunteers, because they do play a vital role.”