Volunteer program that helps seniors may go away

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A program dedicated to helping senior citizens with what they can't do for themselves may be in danger of going away. Officials with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program said Congress is looking at a proposal that if passed would eventually eliminate all the nation's chapters of RSVP. Harrison County RSVP officials said if the cuts go through, it will hurt the community.

After retiring from a career of military service, Al Collins wanted to dedicate himself to community service. So he started volunteering his talents as a handyman to make free basic home repairs for seniors citizens.

"You may go in to change a light bulb or to put a deadbolt on or to put a peephole in, but when you get in there you see a lonely person," said Al Collins, volunteer with the Handyman Brigade. "You see somebody who would just like to talk to somebody. So you sit down and talk with them you have a good feel for what they might need, so you contact RSVP. "

There are more than 400 Harrison County RSVP volunteers working to make a difference in the community. They do things like mentor children and drive cancer patients to doctor's appointments. RSVP officials said Congress is considering budget cuts and realignments that would eliminate two thirds of all RSVP programs immediately and then phase out the rest in 2015.

Harrison County Senior Services Director Janice Merrell said, "I think we will suffer. Many many seniors will suffer. Seniors rely on our program to provide basic needs in this county. We're like a clearing house for services here. Whatever they need, they can call us and if we can't do it we find the place to look for it."

A lot of non-profits also look to RSVP volunteers to do the work the organizations can't afford to hire employees to do.

"RSVP supports the local non-profits in our area and we're meeting critical needs in our community right now and we ensure the safety of seniors. There is so much that our volunteers do," Harrison County RSVP Director Mag Holland. "We have volunteers in many of the nonprofits and to lose those volunteers would be critical to a lot of the nonprofits that we support. American Cancer Society, the Red Cross the list goes on and on."

Whether those volunteers will be able to continue their good work in the community is unknown.

Harrison County RSVP officials said their program is a valuable resource for senior citizens who can often be targeted by unscrupulous people.

All volunteers with RSVP have to pass a background check before they are sent out into the community.

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