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Retired educator still helps as volunteer


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 28, 2001

"Adaptability is the key to life," says Mary Byrd, a retired educator and active volunteer.

After 311/2 years in the educational system, she is still actively helping others.

Her years in education administration for the Manatee County schools gave her chances to interact with volunteers and see the anticipation of the students waiting for them. The stage had been set for another chapter in her life.

After retiring in January 1993, Byrd began to search for volunteering opportunities through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).

She found what she was looking for at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. She now works at the information desk, where she is one of the first people met by families when they enter the hospital.

Working at All Children's led her to the Ronald McDonald House, where families may stay while a child is undergoing treatment and recovery at the hospital.

She also ushers at the Bayfront Center's Mahaffey Theater, greeting patrons and assisting them with seating.

"That first impression can make the difference in their enjoyment of the performance," Byrd says.

She has experienced serious illness, but Byrd thinks her volunteer involvement in making others feel comfortable has decreased concerns about her own health.

She is active in her church and its outreach programs and is an avid reader and early morning walker, usually walking four to five miles a day.

"I try to do good every day and to know which battles to fight," she says.

"By helping others I am helping myself. I continue to learn about life at each new stage, and I try to adapt as needed."

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Pinellas County is a non-profit organization that enlists people 55 and older to volunteer in their communities. Its two key objectives are to enrich the lives of older people by enabling them to help others and to assist public and non-profit agencies and health-care facilities in dealing with urgent social needs in the county.

RSVP has been sponsored by the Pinellas Opportunity Council Inc. since 1977 and is part of a network of 750 federally supported RSVPs across the country. In 1993, it became part of the Corporation for National and Community Service. RSVP has been developed overseas, with projects in 29 countries.

As a volunteer, you can share your knowledge and life experience with diverse groups, such as children, the disabled, tourists, the elderly and teenage parents. Participants volunteer from a few hours a week to more than 40 hours a week in a wide range of nonprofit agencies. There are more than 150 organizations in the county, including day-care centers, homeless shelters, hospitals, soup kitchens, libraries, schools, museums and nursing homes.

The goal of RSVP is to involve seniors in service with volunteer experiences that match their personal interests and make use of their skills. Volunteers serve without compensation but are reimbursed for meals and transportation. Free insurance protection is provided to volunteers while on assignment. Every year volunteers are honored at a recognition luncheon.

If you are interested in volunteering or want more information, please come to see us at our two locations: 3443 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-8690, ext. 22; or at the Martin Luther King Center, 1201 Martin Luther King Ave., Clearwater; (727) (443-1916). Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

- Betty Hayward is the director for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in Pinellas County. You can write to her c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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Retired and Senior Volunteer Program: (727) 327-8690, ext., 22, or (727) 443-1916.

Volunteer Action Center: (727) 893-1140

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