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Hitch proves volunteers are timeless



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Oxford residents Jo Ann and John Hitch love volunteer work. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
June 16, 2010 - Those who think of volunteerism as something only for the young should have a chat with Jo Ann Hitch.

The 69-year-old Oxford resident has spent so many years volunteering with so many different organizations that she's the living embodiment of community spirit.

"I think if you belong to a community, you have to give to it," Hitch said. "And when you do these things, it gives back to you."

Since 1995, Hitch has been a volunteer with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Oakland County, which matches those who are 55 and older with volunteer opportunities at hospitals, day care centers, police departments, cultural institutions, food pantries, schools and other nonprofit and public organizations.

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Approximately 50 percent of Michigan's more than 8,000 RSVP volunteers serve older people in their homes, communities and nursing homes.

Others assist in a variety of programs that serve children, the poor and disabled individuals.

Volunteers can donate anywhere from a few to over 40 hours a week. Whatever they want.

But Hitch was volunteering long before getting involved with RSVP, a program of Catholic Social Services of Oakland County.

Her resume of generosity and helping includes Oxford/Orion FISH (1978-2003), American Red Cross (1990 to present), Oxford Garden Club (1998-present), Seven Ponds Nature Center (2002-present), Meals on Wheels (two years) and the Oxford Village Beautification Commission (five years).

"(Volunteering is) the best thing you can do," Hitch said. "It's very rewarding. It's a lot of fun. You meet other people in the community people from all walks of life. And it's a tremendous learning experience."

From Seven Ponds and the Garden Club, she learned the finer points of gardening. From the Beautification Commission, she learned about Oxford. From the Red Cross, she explored her interest in the medical field.

"I enjoyed working with the nurses and Red Cross," Hitch said. "Just being in the building, you can't help but learn."

She's qualified to work every aspect of a blood drive from registration to preparing the blood packs for the nurses to serving refreshments to donors.

Her blood drive experiences range from the community ones held regularly at Oxford American Legion Post 108 to major drives at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which typically involve anywhere from 300 to 500 donors.

One of her favorite jobs for the Red Cross was when she and her husband of 51 years, John, used to drive to downtown Detroit to pick up blood and deliver it to six different area hospitals. It was an all-day job and they did it once a week.

"Some of the most rewarding days are when you take blood to a hospital and there's a nurse waiting there at the lab because she needs it for a patient. That's how important it is," Hitch said. "It's not just going to sit in the lab on a shelf, they're actually waiting for you to get there. It makes your whole day meaningful."

Hitch said there were times she and her husband would come home after a long day of volunteer work and "feel dead tired," but reflecting on what they had accomplished made it "worthwhile" and erased some of the fatigue.

It was through work doing Red Cross deliveries that Hitch learned of RSVP.

"We were putting a lot of miles on doing deliveries and someone suggested we get in touch with RSVP to get reimbursed for mileage," she explained.

In addition to matching seniors with volunteer opportunities, RSVP also reimburses them for expenses such as travel and meals. Volunteers also receive training and insurance protection while on assignment.

"It's a fantastic organization," Hitch said. "It wasn't like a job, it was enjoyment. To me, it was leisure."

Her husband John, who retired 21 years ago as a skilled tradesman from Chrysler, also enjoys volunteering. In addition to the Red Cross, he's worked with his wife as part of Meals on Wheels and the Oxford Garden Club.

"I'd been working for a wage for over 40 years at different companies and I felt like a prostitute I was selling my time," he said. "I figured this is a chance to give my time away. And I have enough time now that I can afford to give it away."

For more information about RSVP of Oakland County or volunteer opportunities in the community, contact Carol Heckman at (248) 559-1147, extension 3435.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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