By Stephanie Woods, Empowerment Specialist at Elder Law of Michigan
Did you know senior isolation can lead to an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline, and a higher rate of mortality? Social isolation also makes seniors more susceptible to elder abuse, as they typically have less access to help. Physical activity and technology have been shown to reduce isolation and loneliness, but one of the best ways to decrease isolation and loneliness is through volunteering. Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is a program that is easy to access in many areas. RSVP is a subset of AmeriCorps and focuses on seniors age 55 plus, using the talent and skills seniors already have, to help within their community. RSVP has programs that provide opportunities for seniors to be foster grandparents, serve meals, provide natural disaster assistance, and more, depending on the region.
The Eastern Upper Peninsula has an RSVP program centered around youth reading and mentoring. Michigan passed law MCL 380.1280, better known as the Read by Grade Three law in 2016. This law requires students who are more than one grade level behind to be retained until they are able to read at that grade level. The Chippewa, Luce, Mackinac tri-county area started to look at their youngest students and realized many of them could not rhyme. To combat possible retention of students in the third grade, a Reading Buddies program was created to connect students at an early age with seniors. RSVP members go into Head Start programs all around the Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac tri-county area once a week and read to the students. Teachers have noted this addition to their classrooms has helped the demeanor and interaction skills between the students. Teachers also report behavioral improvements, and rhyming and vocabulary improvements in these students. Senior Corps reports that 84% of older adults in RSVP programs reported improved or stable health conditions after two years of participating in the program. Also, 88% of participating adults report a decreased feeling of isolation, which has multiple previously mentioned effects on their health.
Along with Reading Buddies, the Eastern Upper Peninsula RSVP program has a youth mentoring program. RSVP members mentor students in skills ranging from fishing, knitting, homework assistance in after-school programs, and writing workshops.
RSVP is one of the multiple opportunities in the Chippewa, Luce, Mackinac tri-county area offered to help combat senior isolation and increase the opportunities for seniors to pass their wealth of knowledge to younger generations. Anyone in the Eastern Upper Peninsula is encouraged to reach out to The United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula to get more information about this program. If you would like to find an RSVP program in your area contact your state Senior Corps office.
Stephanie Woods is an Empowerment Specialist at Elder Law of Michigan and has been a member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since January 2019. As an Empowerment Specialist at Elder Law of Michigan, Stephanie works with seniors who are victims of financial exploitation. She refers seniors to needed resources while working with partners to receive referrals of potential victims.