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RSVP is one area’s ‘best kept secrets’

It was a day to remember … even if some people had a little trouble remembering.

Near Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, Tom Jacobs leads a discussion group for the older residents of Sterling Park Commons in Waite Park who like to reminisce.

“It’s probably one of the most interesting things that I do as a volunteer,” said Jacobs, a St. Cloud resident who worked at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System before he retired.

The 67-year-old now participates in the Greater St. Cloud Area RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), which includes Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties.

Jacobs said, “After I retired, I needed something to do; I didn’t have any hobbies, so I needed something to keep myself busy, and I needed something that was rewarding to me, and I wanted to work with people because I enjoy people.”

There are about 1,272 “active volunteers” in the program based in the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud; the Greater St. Cloud Area RSVP began almost four decades ago.

“We’re one of the community’s best kept secrets,” said Lisa Braun, director of the Greater St. Cloud Area RSVP.

“We’re an organization that helps engage older adult volunteers age 55 or more in meaningful volunteer service … as well as gives them the opportunity to help strengthen our community.”

Lively discussions

Huddled around Jacobs at the independent and assisted-living facility in Waite Park on Sept. 11 were some of the women of the Sterling Park Senior Community.

The 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks upon the U.S. dominated the news coverage that day, and in the years that followed, the date has been billed as “a day to remember.”

“We’ve talked about different years … and what they remember about that time or what they were doing, say, at the end of the war, and recently we talked about Crossroads and its 50-year celebration and the stores that were there when the mall first opened,” he said.

Greater St. Cloud Area RSVP volunteers have worked with almost 200 human service agencies, such as nonprofit, licensed health care or public entities. St. Cloud Hospital, the Salvation Army, United Way, school districts and nursing homes are just examples.

“They have so many life experiences — whether it be professional or personal — that they are able to share with the agencies that they serve with,” Braun said of the program volunteers.

“They are very dependable. They are willing to give; it’s not something that they’re paid to do … and it’s such a great way for them to remain involved in the community.”

The vision of RSVP is “to be a bridge between those who need and those who give,” according to the description of the national, nonprofit by the city of St. Cloud’s website.

“We’re kind of the link between the older adult who wants to volunteer and the community human service agencies that are looking for volunteers,” Braun said.

Jacobs said, “There are many things that people can get into with RSVP, which has so many opportunities — anything that you want to do.”

Talk time The six women who showed up to hear Jacobs talk on Sept. 11 at Sterling Park Commons included those in Vikings gear because it was Vikings Day at the retirement facility.

The topics at the meeting ran the gamut from national security and foreign policy to bouja and celebrities, including the recent passing of fashion critic and comedienne Joan Rivers.

“Joan Rivers? I was never a fan of hers. I liked Lucille Ball,” said Ramona Weisel. Jacobs had planned to talk about old wives’ tales with the women; he scours the Internet for topics that he hopes the group will find stimulating or that will keep their minds active.

News and current events are frequent topics, but Jacobs makes sure to include thoughtful activities, such as crossword puzzles or memory games based on various decades.

“We’re giving them a social outlet. We’re giving them an opportunity to interact with other people … or else they may become depressed,” Jacobs said of the group’s members.

For more information about the Greater St. Cloud Area RSVP, call (320) 255-7295. or visit and click “Departments.”

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