Debbie Hunter: Red Cross volunteer recruits others to service through RSVP

By Blenda Copeland

In Russell and Lee counties there is a program that helps put local senior adults into volunteer service in the community at just about any non-profit, nursing home, senior center or even a local school.

It’s called the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Lani Richardson is the director.

She explained that retirees who would like to volunteer must be at least age 55 or older.

“All of our volunteers -- they are doing the work of the organization,” she said. She explained there is no income requirement to be in the RSVP and that recently, volunteers have been able to receive mileage reimbursement. However, future funding is uncertain. Pending anticipated federal funding cuts that have been mentioned in the national news recently that could go into effect Sept. 30 could hurt the program’s funding. (The RSVP is a program of East Alabama Services for the Elderly Inc. (EASE), a United Way program that is sustained by “federal grants, state grants and contracts which are matched by local support from city and county governments, United Way, foundation grants and donations from private individuals, churches, clubs and civic organizations,” according to the EASE Web site. EASE was formed in 1974 by Auburn and Opelika residents to “fill the gap” in services to the elderly).

If the federal cuts happen, the RSVP’s small budget of about $48,000 is at risk. Currently, that budget covers no stipends for volunteers. It does help with volunteers’ supplemental insurance and travel reimbursement as well as recognition gifts for service and also covers Richardson’s salary. 

There are no limitations on volunteers’ service hours. They can volunteer as much or a little as they wish.

Debbie Hunter is one of 43 RSVP volunteers in Russell County. There are 74 RSVP volunteers total when counting Lee County’s numbers with Russell County’s.

Hunter is a volunteer for Russell County’s Red Cross chapter and is also simultaneously a volunteer for the RSVP, recruiting volunteers. She is in her fourth year volunteering through RSVP and in her 22nd year volunteering for the Red Cross.

She is a key person that helps get time sheets and mileage reimbursement sheets filed on time for the RSVP.

“I come to serve, not to be served,” Hunter said, echoing similar words from the gospels of the Bible describing the character of Jesus Christ. She said she loves helping people. “You see there’s a need out there,” she said. She also said for those seniors who may find themselves lonely and sitting at home, “You don’t need to give up. Get outside of your comfort zone. Get outside the box. Meet and greet.” She also lightheartedly joked that for those who have lost a spouse, you never know: you may meet your future spouse through volunteering.

Aside from helping with the Red Cross and RSVP, Hunter also helps a group called the Silver Angels in Lee County, which organizes field trips and fun activities for senior citizens of Lee and Russell counties. In essence, the Silver Angels group operates sort of like a senior center, but it’s without an official building, so it meets at Rising Start Baptist Church, not far from Crawford. There is no senior center in that area. 

The future of the RSVP’s outreach is uncertain pending possible Sept. 30 federal funding cuts, however, for more information about volunteering through the program, email Lani Richardson at or call her at (334) 826-5811.