If her neighbor’s ox is in the ditch, RSVP volunteer Frances Smith will help get it out
By: Alex DeJoy, journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
Thank you notes, lists, and calendars pile up on the “to-do wall” of Frances Smith, a volunteer in the Oxford area. Carefully laid out on her table is a list of things that need to be done that day, and it seems like every hour of the day is perfectly planned.
“As long as I am able to stand, I will be volunteering,” Smith said. “I grew up out in the country, and that is what we do. If the neighbor’s ox is out in the ditch, we help them get it out.”
For a small woman, Smith has a big personality and an even bigger heart to go along with it. After total knee replacement two years ago, Smith has done nothing but become an even more active participant in the community and with the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP).
For more than 39 years, Oxford’s RSVP program has been placing volunteers ages 55 and up across town on an as-needed basis. Along with volunteer opportunities and training, the program also offers supplemental insurance and monthly “lunch n’ learns” to thank volunteers.
Through the lunch n’ learns, volunteers have the opportunity to take day trips with the group and listen to speakers on various topics.
Jamie Briscoe, the bookkeeper and secretary for RSVP, said there are volunteer opportunities to suit many interests and time constraints. With 35 volunteer stations, they range from the hospital to the library to the Ford Center for people to choose from.
“We have a variety of volunteer programs, and we are constantly getting new things, along with one-time volunteer venues that we takes requests for,” Briscoe said.
Smith is one of RSVP’s most active volunteers and has been working with them throughout the last four years. “My family, we are volunteer people. I was raised to know that if you are willing and able you need to be providing, serving and helping,” Smith said.
According to the Web Site volunteeringinamerica.gov, Mississippi ranks 45 out of the 50 states with 23.6 percent of people volunteering. Those who do volunteer get a lot out of it, according to Briscoe.
“We have had many volunteers in the past who have said that we have changed their life. Because it just gets them up and it gets them going,” Briscoe said. “It’s amazing how busy they are even though they are retired.”
Smith says there is a good reason for Americans 55 and up to give up their time.
“If you sit down, you go down. Stay active. You’re gonna moan and groan sitting in that chair, so you might as well moan and groan helping somebody,” Smith said. “You just cannot sit down and do nothing. If I am in an organization, I am not going to be a chair warmer, I am going to be a doer.”
Smith volunteers up to six days per week.
“Frances is a real go-getter,” Briscoe said. “I know I can call her when I need a volunteer at the last minute and she is ready to go do whatever needs to be done.”
Over the years, Smith has primarily devoted herself to Memory Makers, a day program for those who suffer from some form of dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s. Smith’s sister, who passed away four years ago, had dementia. Her brother-in-law also had Alzheimer’s. Both lived at Hermitage Gardens, an assisted-living facility in Oxford.
“When I saw the ad in the paper that they were going to have a public meeting to get Memory Makers started, I thought I think I’ll go and steal some of their ideas for crafts,” Smith said. “And I’ll take it down to Hermitage.”
Smith has been at Memory Makers since 2010, volunteering there two days a week. She assists with the set-up of meals and is there to make sure everything runs smoothly. Soon after the program began, Smith started making bibs for the patients out of towels and then progressed to sewing storage bags for people to hang on their walkers, all at her own expense.
“I quit smokin’, so I took my smokin’ money for walker bags,” Smith said.
Smith tries to sew at least one a day on the Singer sewing machine she purchased 40 years ago. Her dedication impresses her grandson John.
“Granny is busier than anyone I have ever met. This is actually the first time I have seen her sit down all week,” said John Smith, who moved in two years ago with his mother Anna to help out his grandmother when she had knee surgery.
In addition to Memory Makers, Smith also helps with Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Since acting is one of Smith’s passions, she has incorporated that into creating skits for the VFW.
Smith proudly displays her handmade costumes in her home. She has costumes that range from Little Red Riding Hood, to Cinderella, and even a little yellow polka dot bikini.
“I just like people. I am the clown of the group, I have fun. And If I can make somebody grin or laugh, it has made my day,” Smith said. “It’s just doin’ for other people. That’s the name of the game.”
To get involved with the RSVP Program in Oxford contact Jamie Briscoe or Arledia Bennett at 662-232-2377 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and also visit their office on 107 Courthouse Square in Oxford. And to get involved with Memory Makers call 662-234-3332 or email them at email@example.com.
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