More than 50 volunteers enrolled in the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, were honored for their service to the Rim Country Thursday at a luncheon at Payson's Rumsey Park.
Volunteers 55 and older received certificates of appreciation during the event, sponsored by the Gila County RSVP Advisory Council, Pinal-Gila RSVP and the Central Arizona Association of Governments.
"I want to thank each and every one of you for what you do," said Tina Bruess, executive director of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. "You are the lifeblood of this community."
Last year, more than 600 volunteers donated more than 100,000 hours -- a value of $1.5 million -- at approximately 60 locations in Gila and Pinal counties, according to an RSVP brochure. Payson and surrounding towns host more than 10 volunteer stations.
RSVP, the nation's largest elderly volunteer program, is part of Senior Corps, which is overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency.
The volunteering spirit is one of the most marvelous parts of living in America, said Tommie Martin, Gila County Supervisor for District 1.
"I don't think this town, state or country could operate without volunteers," Martin said. "You are leaving a legacy in your volunteering."
RSVP volunteers receive secondary insurance and an optional travel reimbursement of 10 cents per mile, said Roy Chavez, RSVP director for Gila and Pinal counties.
"It's just a little incentive," Chavez said. "At the Pine library, volunteers report their mileage hours. When they get the check, they donate it back to the library."
The Isabelle Hunt Memorial Public Library in Pine has three paid staff members and 25 volunteers, said employee Ann Pendleton, who supervises volunteers.
"We have a real tight budget and couldn't do it without them," Pendleton said. "We have one or two per shift, especially on busy days during the summer."
Bob Koontz said he volunteers 50 hours per month with the Payson Police Department and 20 per month at the Chamber of Commerce Visitors' Center.
"It's just a matter of serving the community," said Koontz, who has been volunteering for 12 years. "You want to give back."
Koontz said his tasks include traffic control, taking care of abandoned and impounded vehicles and conducting house checks for residents on vacation.
"Sometimes, I'll get called at 3 a.m. to secure a crime scene," said Koontz, who also coordinates neighborhood patrols for volunteers. "The work can be very demanding."
Volunteers enable the police to focus on more pressing duties, Koontz said.
"We do the mundane stuff and the police get a chance to do their job of controlling crime," Koontz said.
Volunteers are vital to the Pine-Strawberry Senior Center, said Harriet Coleman, volunteer coordinator.
Bruce Thompson, manager of the Pine-Strawberry Senior Center, said he dedicates 30 hours per week.
"I started out with a couple hours," said Thompson, 65, who has been retired for 10 years. "It was enjoyable, so I put in more and more time."
Thompson, a former math and health teacher, has worked at the Senior Center for six years.
"I'm a people person and I get to be around people," Thompson said.
Amalia Livelli said she enjoys working with patients at the Payson Care Center.
"I used to take care of children and thought I could help older people," Livelli said.
Each Wednesday, Livelli, a volunteer of five years, works for two hours.
"We help people play bingo since sometimes they can't see or hear," Livelli said.
"They sure love it because they get away from looking at four walls," added volunteer Jo Kelso, 86.
Betty Scott, 74, said she began volunteering at the Time Out Thrift Shop eight months ago because "help was needed."
"We price donations," said Scott, who works with her friend Ella Hatfield, 75. "We make it a fun day. We drink coffee and talk when we're finished."