Federal budget cuts may ax local senior volunteer program

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Our country's financial woes have a South Mississippi community service organization wondering if it will survive the federal budget chopping block. Harrison County's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program helps more than 500 senior citizens, some more than 100 years old, to stay active. Right now RSVP's future is uncertain.

While they know how to kick up their heels and have a good time, the 70, 80 and 90-year-olds aren't all play and no work. Harrison County RSVP members spend countless hours volunteering at hospitals, police departments and non-profit organizations as well as delivering meals to shut-ins. Some volunteers do light maintenance work at the homes of elderly and disabled residents who couldn't otherwise afford it.

Al Collins is a member of the Handyman Brigade.

"We go into homes where there's no toilets. There's no washing facilities. No front porch. They can't get out their door. Some of them can't even get on the ground. We go in and put in the rails and the ramps," Collins explained.

At an appreciation luncheon, RSVP's director read a letter from President Barack Obama to the volunteers thanking them for their service and reminding them our county's economic troubles.

RSVP is part of the Corporation For National Community Service, which officials say has already received a $12.7 million budget cut. In the next two weeks, RSVP expects to find out if it will completely lose federal funding.

"Right now, we pay our volunteers a mileage reimbursement, which is 25 cents a mile. With gas prices, that is nothing," said Magdelena Holland, Harrison County RSVP Director. "We would have to eliminate that. We have volunteers that would not volunteer if we couldn't supplement their mileage, because they couldn't afford it. Most of them are on fixed incomes, but they want to help."

RSVP might also have to do away with its job placement program to help seniors struggling financially.

"A lot of seniors found out that retirement doesn't stretch as far as they thought it was going to stretch. So that added income really makes a difference," said Holland.

Harrison County RSVP also receives some money from the county, however, program officials say they're not sure it would be enough to keep going if they lose federal funding.

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