Volunteer group racks up 4.6 million hours across 40 years
JANESVILLE — Maxine Kittelson kept busy greeting and directing people as they arrived Monday morning at the Rock County Courthouse.
“Can I help you?” she asked one young woman approaching the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Rock County's information desk.
“I need directions for the victim witness program office because I need to drop off papers,” said Jennifer Anderson, Janesville.
Anderson said even though she had access to a courthouse directory hanging on the wall next to where Kittelson sat, she preferred the human interaction.
“I always ask so I know where I'm going. The directory is confusing to me,” Anderson said.
Kittelson is one of 11 RSVP volunteers who volunteer more than 5,000 hours a year at the courthouse information desk, said Vivian Palombi, local RSVP office/community referrals coordinator.
The 76-year-old Janesville woman also is among thousands of RSVP volunteers who have donated 4.6 million hours of services throughout Rock County since RSVP started 40 years ago.
The contribution “helps to make the community solid,” said Linda Kleven, RSVP assistant director.
“I don't think the agencies and organizations would be able to maintain or provide as much service without the volunteers' help,” she said.
Rob Leu, Rock County General Services director, agreed.
“Without the volunteers it probably wouldn't exist,” he said of the courthouse volunteer information desk.
And, the service is “invaluable,” Leu said.
“Human contact and just having friendly faces willing to help calm people and their fears of this place. They're so helpful to clients and visitors,” he said.
RSVP started in 1973 with 180 volunteers led by one staff person, Kleven said. By 1977, there were 275 volunteers and 40 locations volunteers were placed.
The number of volunteers peaked at 1,172 in 1990 and dropped back to 1,130 in 2011, when the group still donated 135,812 hours countywide, Kleven said.
RSVP, which has averaged about 1,000 volunteers over the last decade, currently has 812, Kleven said.
“Of those 1,000, I'd say not all were active because of health reasons, and we've lost 162 this past year from illness, relocation or death,” she said.
Kleven said the demand for volunteers would only continue to grow with budget constraints.
“Look at how many nonprofits use volunteers,” she said.
The average age of RSVP's volunteers also has gotten younger, Kleven said.
“The current average age has decreased by two years. So in the last three to five years, the average age has gone down from 77 to 75,” she said.
“Many of RSVP's volunteers in the past would volunteer into their 80s and 90s and do pretty much anything you ask, while younger volunteers are more specific as to what works for them,” Kleven said.
The hours volunteers contribute can result in huge savings for the organizations with which they spend their time, Kleven said.
The Independent Sector—the leadership network for nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs—estimated the value of volunteer time in 2012 at $22.14 per hour. That's in increase from the Wisconsin volunteering values of $18.50 from 2011.
“That's wages plus benefits to do these jobs,” Kleven said. “So for some, especially nonprofits, it would be very difficult to continue without the help of volunteers.”
But volunteers also reap benefits from donating their time, Kleven said.
“They're making a difference in their community and staying healthier longer when they're active through volunteering,” she said.
Kittelson, who retired in 1999 after working 24 years at the Rock County Health Care Center, said she simply enjoys volunteering. Those she helps—80 people last Tuesday morning and another 69 last Thursday morning—appreciate what she does.
“Thank you!” Miranda McKichan of Clinton shouted, waving as she left the courthouse after Kittelson directed her where she could have photocopies made. “Those were the best directions ever.”