SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Meet Gary Mitzel, a former worker for Caterpillar who grew up in North Dakota and recently retired to Sioux Falls.
But in his retirement, he wanted to remain active. That led him to Horsepower on the western edge of Sioux Falls.
"The horses, man, what awesome gentle horses," Mitzel said. "They're big, but they're as gentle as teddy bears."
But finding this place to volunteer wasn't as easy as you might think. Mitzel searched for opportunities around Sioux Falls, and for one reason or another, was rejected. That is until he found the Siouxland Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, better known as RSVP.
"As a child, we had horses on the farm, ponies, riding horses, teams of horses, so I've actually driven teams of horses. So when I first started talking to RSVP, the Horsepower caught me because I have an interest in horses," Mitzel said.
"It's our mission to work with people who are 55 and older to solve community needs through volunteering; that's kind of what we're all about," RSVP Executive Director Chellee Nemec said.
RSVP currently serves 130 government agencies and non-profits in the four county region surrounding Sioux Falls. While the organization may not be well know, it's actually been connecting opportunities and volunteers for more than 30 years.
And Mitzel is not alone. RSVP currently has 350 volunteers but organizers hope that number will grow to 650 by the end of next year.
"It's a big goal, but I think it's one that's obtainable once people learn about the flexibility that RSVP has to offer," Nemec said.
As for the benefits, those involved say they're countless and that includes for those volunteering and those on the receiving end of the service.
"We love to bring in some of our seasoned volunteers, people that come with a lot of work ethic and have a lot of desire to do well in the community, that's why they're here," Kaia Kloster of Horsepower said.
Horsepower helps those with physical, emotional or cognitive challenges by giving them therapeutic horse rides. The once summer-only program is now a year-round hub of activity that relies on hundreds of volunteers. To find those volunteers, they'll keep turning to young people, and those working through RSVP.
"To be able to come out and be a self-starter, to be able to look around and see what needs to be done, because they've been in the work place, they've had people work for them, so they can bring that here, and they're just get up and go," Kloster said.
And for Mitzel who found his chance through RSVP, you can bet he recommends it and will keep donating his time and experience.
"The friendships you make, the faces you see and recognize and you look forward to seeing them every week. It certainly appears they're glad to be here, to see the individuals they've gotten to know over time. It's with the staff as well. I've gotten to know the staff and it kind of becomes a family, a big family and a happy family that is working together to make differences is people's lives," Mitzel said.
And that's the ultimate goal in all volunteer chances.
One additional service offered by RSVP is to log and report all volunteer hours. That information can be used to obtain funding on a local, state and federal level. RSVP organizers say that's why even those who currently volunteer could contact them, to ensure their hours are better organized.