Volunteers, older Americans celebrated during breakfast in Coventry
COVENTRY — During a celebration at the Coventry Resource and Senior Center on Wednesday morning, gratitude for those being recognized was palpable.
“We take volunteering very seriously,” Bob Robillard, Coventry’s director of human services, said during the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast, an event held annually to honor those who have given of their time to help their community.
Before Robillard sat dozens of residents who have volunteered with programs like Project Friends, Tis the Season and the Coventry Community Food Bank, among many others.
“If we had to pay you folks, we’d be broke,” he said, as gentle laughter echoed through the room. “Because it’s not just your time; it’s your energy and all the collaboration that happens throughout our community.”
All told, more than 100 people volunteer with the Coventry Resource and Senior Center. They deliver meals to homebound residents, and work to ensure a bright holiday season for all local families; they run BINGO and serve coffee and organize card tournaments.
Wednesday's event wasn’t only held to recognize volunteers, however. It also served as a celebration of Older Americans Month, observed nationwide every May since 1963.
“There’s so much power in our community as folks age and then they give back,” Robillard said, looking out over a room filled with local seniors who together have dedicated countless hours to volunteering.
Still, he added, it’s not only older people who pitch in — in the community garden, for example, a three-year-old and a 93-year-old recently worked side-by-side tending the organic veggies that grow there.
“One of the great things about our community is a lot of people give back,” Robillard said. “We have a good amount of folks in need in our community, and it’s really important that these folks step up and make a difference every single day.”
Pat Fleming, program coordinator at the resource and senior center, and program assistant Karen Beaudoin handed out certificates of appreciation to each volunteer. Representatives from Meals on Wheels Rhode Island handed out certificates, as well.
For Mike Nelson-Huling, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, it felt “pretty good” to be recognized.
“It really makes you feel like you’re helping out,” said Nelson-Huling, who also lends a hand with the resource and senior center’s snack and coffee shops.
Nelson-Huling was among more than 70 volunteers to attend Wednesday’s event, sponsored by Riverview Health Center. Those gathered enjoyed pancakes, potatoes, eggs and bacon prepared by culinary arts students from Coventry High School; they gulped down orange juice and sipped hot coffee.
Also in attendance were Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, Sen. Leonidas Raptakis and Rep. Tom Noret.
Raptakis read aloud a proclamation from Gov. McKee declaring May “Older Rhode Islanders Month,” before taking a moment to thank the volunteers who sat before him.
“If we didn’t have volunteers, and we had to pay for the individuals that are here today, the cost would be astronomical to provide those services,” Raptakis said. “That’s why being a volunteer is important.”
Matos and Noret each also addressed the volunteers and seniors gathered.
Speaking from the front of the room, Matos called the work she does providing services to older Rhode Islanders as chair of the statewide Long Term Care Coordinating Council “some of the most rewarding.”
The lieutenant governor also spoke about a recent trip she took with a Meals on Wheels volunteer to deliver food to those who are elderly or disabled.
“I was able to witness the importance of having volunteers participate to ensure that the quality of life of our seniors is a quality of life that is rich,” Matos said.
She also witnessed the importance of having people who are willing to check in on isolated Rhode Islanders, and to ensure that they’re aware of all services available to them.
“So I want to say to the volunteers that are here, thank you so much,” Matos continued. “Our society is built on the promise that as we get older we’re able to live in a community that cares about us, and that we’re able to live healthy and productive lives. And that’s only possible through the volunteer services that other Americans provide and the commitment of your government.”
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