Wanted: Some savvy senior volunteers | PostIndependent.com

Wanted: Some savvy senior volunteers

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

For some seniors, tasks such as doing taxes or making informed health choices aren’t easy.That’s where local RSVP volunteers can make a difference. The organization taps the time and energy of seniors in the community to help others.Two key areas in which the program provides seasonal aid are an income tax assistance program and Medicare D counseling. But both of these areas can be complicated and often can be navigated best by people with computer and Internet skills.These are some of the very skills many seniors lack, and that puts them in a position to benefit from the help RSVP volunteers offer. At the same time, the lack of those skills among older people can make it hard to find other seniors who are able to volunteer for the tax and Medicare D programs.That dilemma has RSVP director Cheryl Cain looking for more volunteers for those programs.”We really need to get some more skilled people involved in RSVP and these two programs are very important ones,” she said.Part of that effort is focusing on getting younger people involved as RSVP volunteers. Typically, RSVP has emphasized recruitment of those who are 55 or older, and it only tracks volunteer hours for those in that age bracket.”But we do work with some people who are younger than that who help our program and provide volunteer service, so we move into a bit of a gray area,” she said.RSVP has supported the tax program for 16 years. Originally the Internal Revenue Service administered it with RSVP volunteers doing the work, but seven years ago the IRS ended its involvement and RSVP took on the task completely.It helps an average of nearly 350 people a year from Aspen to Parachute, all for free. Volunteers typically work from early February through April 15. Often the work results in individuals being able to claim money that they wouldn’t otherwise get, and even a small tax refund can make a big difference to some of them, Cain said.RSVP is looking for help in each community, but especially in Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Rifle. Last year, about eight people volunteered for the tax program.Cain called the Medicare D program “just a nightmare” in terms of its complexity. The program offers an open enrollment from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31 of each year, and it’s important for seniors to check each year to see if they’re in the right plan, based on the medications they take. Being in the wrong plan can cost someone hundreds of dollars a year, she said.Cain said it’s possible to go on an interactive Web site that helps determine which plan is best based on a person’s medications. But this can be daunting for many seniors to try to do.That’s where volunteers can make a difference, but Cain said RSVP had only about three Medicare D volunteers last year.RSVP helped about 500 people the first year Medicare D went into effect, and the next year about 300, “but that doesn’t even come close to meeting the need,” she said.”We could sure use some help to provide support services for them,” Cain said.Although a basic level of aptitude helps, RSVP provides training and support for the tax and Medicare D volunteer programs.Rulison resident Jean Mullenax, 74, has served as a tax volunteer for RSVP, helping around 30 people last year. She said she likes interacting with other seniors.”It’s very rewarding to do volunteer work if it’s your field and something you’re interested in and you enjoy people,” she said.Mullenax previously worked professionally in tax preparation.”I must be weird. Nobody likes taxes. I thought it was a very interesting field to be in,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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