|Spring Real Estate 2004
Publication Date: Wednesday, April 7, 2004
Home is where the heart is
by Dana Green
Anderson, 100, still lives on her own in her Palo Alto house.
She even does her own cooking, sitting at a small table in her
kitchen to chop vegetables for her homemade soups and stews.
But some chores, like tending to her small garden, had become
Last spring, a team from the Realtor Service Volunteer
Program (RSVP) came to the rescue, scrubbing Anderson's windows
and weeding and pruning the garden.
"They've been here two or three years now. ...I really appreciate what they're
doing," she said. "It's the only way I would get [these tasks] done."
Started three years ago by the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors (SILVAR),
the annual, week-long RSVP program helps elderly, disabled and housebound individuals
in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties with home-maintenance projects and other
Since its inception, the program has touched the lives of a growing number of
seniors. On average, the group has helped 100-130 households each year since
the program began, according to Nancy Goldcamp of Coldwell Banker, one of the
RSVP program's founders.
"We're expecting more this year," she said.
As word of the volunteer program has spread, the group has received calls from
as far away as Daly City, Morgan Hill and Half Moon Bay, according to Goldcamp.
In 2001, the SILVAR members, made up of Realtors, insurance agents, lenders,
and other real-estate affiliated professionals, were looking for a hands-on project
that would allow them to give back to the community.
"We didn't just want to have a fundraiser and give it away," Goldcamp
said. "We wanted to see and feel the difference we made. When
we saw the impact it was having, we knew we had to do it again
The impact has been particularly significant on homebound and
frail seniors, according to Bertha Cervantes, director of Peninsula
on Wheels. "One
woman had a leaky faucet in the bathroom for months until [the
RSVP volunteers] fixed it. For us, it's a little thing -- but for
it's big. Some
can't stand for three minutes at a time."
The goal of the program is to keep seniors in their homes --
not just surviving, but comfortable. "We have moved food down on their shelves so they can reach
it. ...It keeps it safe and decent for them so they can stay in their house and
remain independent," Goldcamp said.
"These seniors want to live in their own homes," Cervantes said. "Without
this program, they might not be able to be there."
Applicants choose from a checklist of tasks -- and no task is
too small. The volunteer teams have washed windows, connected
changed smoke-alarm batteries and installed light bulbs. "One year we washed
200 windows," Goldcamp said.
Initially, some seniors were afraid to allow strangers into
their home, according to Goldcamp. That's how Betty Schneider,
Alto resident, felt
at first. "I was kind of skeptical when they first called," she
recalled. But after the group came out and cleaned her gutters,
she changed her mind.
"I was overwhelmed. ...They never mentioned selling houses.
Seems to me they were trying to help me stay in it longer."
" 'What a sneaky way to get us to get rid of our house,' that's what many
people told us," Goldcamp said. "Some people cancelled
-- they felt intimidated. It broke our hearts. But the more people
it and it's
known -- the less concern [there is]."
All the volunteers wear the same official t-shirt to clearly identify them as
part of the program, Goldcamp said.
The volunteers spend months before the week-long campaign preparing for the event:
conducting outreach, reviewing requests, organizing volunteers, and lining up
pick-up trucks to haul away debris and carry tools, said Cindy Solomon, senior
sales consultant at North American Title Co. and an RSVP volunteer.
"A lot of time and preparation goes into it each year -- we get better as
time goes on," Solomon said.
Some requests are beyond the reach of the program. "We can change the furnace
filter, but we can't fix their furnace," Goldcamp said. "What
we can do is guide them to how to get [the job] done."
RSVP will call city officials to paint curbs or ask a volunteer contractor to
help with a leaking pipe, Goldcamp said.
Cash and in-kind donations are vital to the program's success, according to Gerd
Meissner, director of public affairs for SILVAR and the San Mateo County Association
of Realtors (SAMCAR). Last year, RE Infolink, the association's mainframe provider,
donated the volunteer t-shirts, and Ace Hardware offered a discount on supplies.
"It's been very helpful that local businesses have been very actively involved,
providing tools and materials that are needed," Meissner said.
The positive feedback to the RSVP program has led to similar projects around
the Peninsula. SAMCAR joined the program last year, and the Santa Clara Realtors
association is starting a similar volunteer program this year.
Solomon said that the program reaps benefits for volunteers
as well as recipients. "It's
a very fulfilling experience, not just for them, but for ourselves," Solomon
"Many of them are minor tasks. [But] when we leave the house,
they have smiles on their faces. They can't believe that a group
to do this work and not expect anything."
For Schneider, who bought her home in 1954, the group has helped her stay near
the community center and the bus lines, to take long walks and enjoy the city's
"For those of us in Palo Alto who have had our homes here for 50 years, it's allowed us to stay here," Schneider said. "It's really a wonderful program."