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Seniors at city hall.

When you walk into the atrium at City Hall in Lafayette, La., you may be greeted by a lovely lady dressed in purple, or a gentleman in a VFW jacket with his many military decorations pinned to his cap, or one of eight other members of Lafayette's Retired Senior Volunteer Program who share the duty of staffing the Information Desk there.

We may not stop to think about it very often, but a competent staff at that desk is an important asset to city government. Visitors are understandably surprised to find no directional signs in the atrium, which is clearly the center of the building.

A visitor unfamiliar with City Hall is faced with a couple of options: tour the building figuring eventually to happen into the right office, or walk over to the information desk for quick, accurate directions. Information "customers" invariably leave the desk with the impression that this person really cares about them and their needs at City Hall.

To city employees that friendly face and "Hello, how are you today?" is a pleasant break from demands of the workday. The volunteers obviously enjoy their work. When an employee thanked one of them for the great job he and the rest of the volunteer staff do, he said, "We want to thank the City for allowing us to be here. We hope to, in some small way, help whatever agency we are working for, and that helps us to remain active and psychologically sane."

Each of the ten volunteers--they work half-day shifts--who share duties at the City Hall information desk brings a rich background to his or her work. Many work at multiple volunteer "jobs."

One man worked for forty-two years with the State of Louisiana and Lafayette Parish government. He now works at up to five different volunteer assignments each week.

Another took part in nine invasions during World War II. After the war he moved on to teach for a number of years at a vocational technical school. He puts in about nine hundred hours a year in various volunteer jobs, and 10,000 miles on his car odometer getting to and from them.

Staffers say most questions are for directions to the Revenue Collection, Parking Regulation or Civil Service offices. Each of them can cite exceptions though.

One tells of an unusual and disturbing occurrence, "A man came in, and he was really angry. He needed to talk to someone about a case of child abuse. He said he didn't want to talk to anyone on the phone." Another volunteer recalls a lighter moment, "Two yound women came up and asked where they could find a Justice of the Peace. One of them wanted to get married right away because he fiance was shipping out to Korea in a few days."

In both instances, a little research pointed the questioners in the right direction.

Every volunteer is as committed to his or her volunteer work as members of the working population are to paying jobs. Individual reasons for volunteering echo common themes: the opportunity to give of themselves to benefit their community; keeping active and involved; and the luxury of working at what they like, where and when they want to.

Lafayette's RSVP office was established almost twenty years ago. It is an Under-Action of the Federal Domestic Volunteer Action, which local RSVP Director Linda Boudreaux says is charged with "mobilizing volunteers in the community."

The City Hall operation is about three years old. If volunteers' time is valued at only [p]$4.50 per hour, the city experiences savings of more than $9,000 each year. The non-monetary benefits are immeasurable.

Boudreaux feels RSVP members make a strong statement to the public through their actions. "Senior citizens are valuable, viable members of the community," she says.

These dedicated men and women are changing misconceptions about their generation. At the same time they are setting an example for the next generation of senior citizens, as well as providing a valuable service to city government. Wouldn't we all love to be able to choose work assignments that suit our interests and personal schedules?

If we learn well we may get that chance--in time.

Denise Smith is public information officer for the City of Lafayette. For more information, contact her or Assistant to the Mayor Bertha Bernard at P.O. Box 4017-C, Lafayette, La. 70502; (318) 261-8300.
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Title Annotation:City Ideas That Work; Lafayette, Louisiana
Author:Smith, Denise
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 4, 1991
Previous Article:NLC plan carried to Capitol Hill: city officials testify for Local Partnership Act of 1991.
Next Article:Senate passage of civil rights cited as 'positive move for all.' (National League of Cities president Sidney Barthelemy)

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