Paul Larsen, who has served as Volunteer Programs Director at United Way of Thurston County for over two years, was nominated in July to serve as President of the Washington Association of Retired & Senior Volunteer Program Directors (WARSVPD).
A program of the Corporation for National & Community Service, RSVP is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and older. Paul serves as one of 14 Directors in the state of Washington as part of WARSVPD, Washington Association of Retired & Senior Volunteer Program Directors, overseeing volunteer activity in Thurston, Mason, and Lewis counties.
Former Operations Manager at the Crisis Center of Thurston and Mason counties, and a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force, where he served as crew chief on the B-52 bomber, Paul feels strongly about the benefits of volunteerism. “Non-profit organizations would not function without the help of volunteers,” says Larsen. “Volunteering has been scientifically proven to improve overall health and wellness, increase life span, reduce the risk of heart disease and other illnesses, as well as provide support and valuable services to the local community.”
At United Way of Thurston County, those interested in participation in the program can fill out an application online or in-person and are provided an introduction and overview to the program by Jennifer Thompson, RSVP Program Coordinator at United Way. Jennifer acts as a “concierge” for volunteers by meeting with them one-on-one, determining the types of opportunities available, and providing ongoing support.
Additional benefits of the program include access to supplemental insurance, mileage reimbursement up to $40 a month, and quarterly E-newsletters, updating volunteers on the status and progress of their efforts in the RSVP program, both in the local community and on a state and national level.
United Way promotes the RSVP program to local retiree communities and organizations, churches, and through social media, but Paul says the best advertising is word-of-mouth.
“By far, the best advertising for volunteers is other volunteers,” he says. Volunteer Thurston sees 3,500 views a month on average of people seeking local volunteer opportunities. The RVSP program focuses primarily on food banks and the Reading Buddies program, which connects seniors to local elementary schools, to read to students that are struggling to read at grade level. There are currently over 130 volunteers in 10 local food banks, as well as 150 Reading Buddies in 30 elementary schools in Thurston, Mason, and Lewis counties.
Paul enjoys both his position at United Way and as RSVP Director because of the passion of the people he works with. “People are here because they care and feel connected to the work they’re doing; there’s a lot of heart here,” he says. He recently returned from a productive fall conference of WARSVP Directors in Leavenworth, WA, where some new objectives for the program and its distribution of funding were outlined. He hopes to find a local representative at the federal level to speak to the benefits of the program for use in future promotions and to show to prospective volunteers. Paul serves as Vice-Chair of the Board for WIN-211, a state-wide phone number for those seeking social services, and looks forward to his upcoming wedding to his fiancé, Cyndi.*
*Paul and Cyndi were married on October 14, 2017. CONGRATULATIONS!!!