88-year-old Ed Robles (R) throws a safety vest to partner Dick Engel after directing traffic at the scene of a car accident, February 4, 2015. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters
88-year-old Ed Robles (R) throws a safety vest to partner Dick Engel after directing traffic at the scene of a car accident during their Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol in San Diego, February 4, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Last week, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) announced that it was looking for a few good men and women…with experience. In North County San Diego, the CHP is looking for volunteers over the age of 55 to take on administrative, community, and neighborhood outreach tasks that officers would otherwise “take an officer off of the beat.” Senior volunteers don’t need to have police experience, but they do need to be willing to serve, be interested in public safety, and be able to honor the standards and expectations of the California Highway Patrol. But the CHP is only one of the many organizations in and around San Diego that relies on active, retired or semi-retired citizens to fill some of the gaps that regular officers simply can’t fill. Take a look at how you, or a loved one, can contribute in a vital way, all over San Diego.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department established its Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol, or RSVP, as they’re known, in 1994, and today they field over 700 volunteers who provide more than 168,000 hours of service every year. In 1997, Rancho Bernardo police asked for volunteers over the holidays to help with the assistance they offered to the elderly and to homeowners. Now a formal program called YANA, or You Are Not Alone, the volunteers checked in on the home-bound elderly, and drove by the empty houses of vacationers. This program was so successful that other departments took notice, and the SDPD’s traffic division requested a RSVP unit of their own. You have almost certainly seen a RSVP patrol member managing traffic at an accident scene, or dealing with parking complaints, somewhere in San Diego. While anyone over the age of 50, retired or semi-retired, can apply, men make up the majority of RSVP volunteers. In a recent story, a Reuters reporter was told repeatedly that the RSVP wives are thrilled that the men are active, engaged, and happily, out of the house.

Today, communities and organizations throughout San Diego have RSVP units, though not all have the same age requirements, time commitments, and training prerequisites. Volunteers are paired up, so that every Starsky has a Hutch, and some units drive in specially marked RSVP cars. RSVP volunteers never carry weapons, and typically patrol only during daylight hours. Some partners are even real-life partners, who enjoy driving around together solving the mysteries of badly parked cars, dehydrated hikers, and suspicious lurkers.

Interested in volunteering? Here are just a few of the groups that are open to new ‘recruits’:

Whether your interest lies in public service, or some other form of giving back, the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol is a great example of how staying active, engaged and useful keeps us healthy. One of the older RSVP members is 88 years old, and has no intention of giving up his seat in the patrol car. If your loved one is looking for a way to stay vital, volunteering with a RSVP patrol is a great place to start.