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Seniors called on to get involved

MANATEE — Jacqueline Langlois-Yoder remembers organizing her first dance as a 17-year-old, volunteering her time to welcome soldiers returning from World War II.

That was 65 years ago.

Now 82, Langlois-Yoder hasn’t even considered slowing down.

On Thursday, she helped out at Renaissance on 9th hosting a prom for seniors. And she brought along her younger man, 72-year-old Barry Yoder, whom she married almost a year ago and inspired to give his time to Renaissance on 9th as well.

Volunteering is just what she does, what she’s always done. She has helped the Girls Scouts, Meals on Wheels and countless schools and churches.

On Saturday, the Yoders were at The Sarasota Open tennis tournament, volunteering for security duty.

“I don’t even think about,” Langlois-Yoder said. “It’s something I do because I like people. A lot of people are looking for friends. All you’ve got to do is smile, and it makes their day. And that in turn makes my day.”

Unfortunately, Langlois-Yoder’s story isn’t as common as it could be in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

According to figures released by the Corporation for National and Community Services, the Sarasota Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Manatee County, ranked 61st out of 75 mid-sized cities with an average of 23.8 percent of its residents volunteering their time between 2006 and 2008.

Florida fares even worse. It ranks 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia at 19.6 percent of residents volunteering.

Utah was clearly the most charitable state at 43.8 percent, followed by Nebraska and Minnesota at 38.9 percent and 38.4 percent, respectively. New York ranked last at 18.7 percent.

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Manatee County is seizing on the statistics to make a plea for more people to come to the aid of their community.

RSVP Manager Allison Parker said she doesn’t think Manatee lacks charitable people. It’s just that they may not all get counted. Those who are not registered with RSVP, which refers volunteers to 86 area nonprofits, may not be included in the national statistics. RSVP reports its figures to the Corporation for National and Community Services.

“We just don’t have the resources right now to get out and retrieve those numbers,” Parker said. “We have the best neighborly people. We all want to help each other.”

Since July 1, RSVP’s 691 volunteers have recorded 64,062 hours, which equates to $1.29 million worth of service, Parker said.

But the numbers fall as snowbirds head north for the summer, she said.

“In the summertime, we do lose a lot of volunteers,” Parker said. “That’s why it’s important for the locals to step up and help out.”

Volunteers who register with RSVP receive free supplemental accident and liability insurance, and placement with an emphasis on using their skills.

Charlene Freddes, a volunteer and president of RSVP’s advisory board, said the organization had between 800 and 900 volunteers five years ago. But the organization wasn’t aggressive in marketing its service, so the numbers began to dwindle, she said.

Freddes, who volunteers for the American Red Cross and Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, said volunteering can be a social activity that keeps people connected to their community.

“I have a couple of friends who are older than me, and they told me they were bored,” Freddes said. “So I told them, ‘I know a good place for you.’ ”

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