What do you get when you combine 300,000 people ages 55+ with volunteer opportunities in their community? A nationwide program called RSVP! Hmm, our punchline could use some work, but RSVP is no joke.

RSVP, which stands for Retired Senior Volunteer Program, is one of three programs run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a Congressional Trust supporting and promoting volunteerism throughout the country. RSVP makes it easy for volunteers ages 55+ to get involved with their communities and give back. Here at Cultivate, we’re an RSVP grantee, and we recruit and place volunteers in Boulder County. We’ve been connecting senior volunteers with local organizations for 45 years.

In order to find the perfect opportunities for volunteers to give back, we partner with a number of incredible local organizations who are always in need of volunteer support. Recently, we took a field trip to Sister Carmen Community Center, an RSVP station we’ve been working with for 20 years.

What started as a Catholic nun traveling door-to-door with food, clothing, and necessities has grown into Sister Carmen Community Center, a family resource center supporting the community with basic needs and individualized support. “As a legacy, Sister Carmen’s goal was to serve without discrimination,” says Ann Huggins, Director of Volunteer Services. “We’ve kept that as part of our mission as well.”

The non-religious family resource center has a food bank, thrift store, free cooking and yoga classes, and individual and family advocates. They implement a strengths-based approach by meeting each participant where they’re at and building upon their strengths, abilities, and situation. By providing direct support through education, advocacy and material resources, participants are empowered to enhance their well being and the well being of their families.

Ann leads us on a tour of the organization. We pass the photo wall, created by a local Eagle Scout to document the unique and meaningful history of Sister Carmen’s impact. We explore their warehouse, filled with empty boxes and tubs ready to collect food throughout the community. A row of bicycles, refurbished and ready to go, are available to participants who may be struggling with transportation challenges. We step out into the sunshine to explore the volunteer-grown garden, which provides fresh produce to participants.

Our tour ends at the food bank—a large brightly-lit room filled with shelves. Volunteers are busy sorting produce, boxes, bags and cans. Expiration dates are checked, produce is examined for freshness and the flurry of activity quickly has the shelves filled.

“We’re a community hub,” Ann says when I ask what community means to Sister Carmen. “Everything from someone who wants to give back, get involved and make friends to taking a cooking class or a yoga class.” And Sister Carmen relies on the community to keep their programs running. “We always need volunteers. We need more people who host food drives. If you’re having a book club meeting, turn it into a food drive. We need food year round.”

Volunteers are the driving force behind organizations like Sister Carmen (and Cultivate!). You can help Sister Carmen Community Center and all the families they support by volunteering. Whether you’re looking to get your hands dirty in the garden, keep the shelves stocked in the food bank, or drop-in to help out in the thrift store, Sister Carmen needs you. And if you’re 55 or older, we’d love to get you started!