Story and Photo by Morgan Fitzpatrick, communications intern for Volunteer Fairfax and RSVP Northern Virginia
When Martin Jordan decided to retire a year ago, he wanted to find a way to give back to the community, so he joined RSVP-Northern Virginia.
Martin said he tried several volunteer opportunities but “they just didn’t fit.” Then, thanks to his friend Olive and RSVP’s volunteer specialist Carly Hubicki, he found an ideal opportunity. It would be a package deal; Olive would volunteer alongside Martin during his weekly trips to bring cheer to residents in local nursing homes.
The duo works well together. When a reporter pulled up to the Burke Health and Rehabilitation Center on Burke Lake Road on a recent brisk fall morning to interview the two, Martin was sporting a red and blue Washington Capitals shirt while Olive, wearing a bright bushy pink collar around her neck, was waving enthusiastically. Waving her tail that is.
Did we mention Olive is a two-year-old golden retriever?
Martin and Olive volunteer with RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) partner Fairfax Pets On Wheels, a program of Fairfax County’s Volunteer Solutions, a department of Fairfax Area Agency on Aging.
Each week Martin and his canine companion visit local senior home residents bringing comfort and companionship to residents.
“Seeing how some residents’ faces light up when they see Olive is amazing, it’s so freeing,” Martin says, as he describes how rewarding volunteering with Pets on Wheels is.
“Olive is actually my daughter Emily’s dog. She (Emily) absolutely loves and adores her, but I am her walker for the program,” Martin says. Martin’s daughter decided to move to New York and accepted a job offer as a chef, and unfortunately couldn’t take Olive with her. Martin said, “I’ve been taking care of Olive while Emily is away, but Olive absolutely loves visiting the residents.”
Founded in 1987, Fairfax Pets On Wheels brings together loving companion pets and Fairfax County residents who live in local nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Pets On Wheels volunteers have provided pet visitation through a network of over 175 volunteers and have touched the lives of thousands of residents throughout Fairfax County, according to the group’s website. Currently, FPOW provides visitation to residents in more than a dozen local facilities.
During their visit in Burke, Olive and Martin are the stars of the hall as they travel from room to room, getting stopped occasionally by nurses who pet Olive since she is such a friendly and well trained dog.
Pets admitted to the program must pass a screening process that includes a temperament test. Before being approved for visitations, the pet and his or her owner must make a trial run at a local participating facility to ensure that they are a good fit for the program.
Dogs, cats and bunnies are eligible to take part, according to Ruth Benker, who has been a FPOW volunteer for more than 25 years and is a member of the FPOW Board of Directors. Volunteers are asked to make visits with their pets at least once a month, she says.
According to Benker, pet therapy has been proven to be a real health benefit, relieving stress, blood pressure issues and depression in patients.
For volunteers wanting to support the program that may not have a suitable pet, there are other opportunities to help including with fundraising, website support and basic administrative support, she says.
During Martin and Olive’s recent half hour visit in Burke, they met with seven residents. “Seeing them smile is so worth it,” he says.
Olive’s visits not only bring cheer to the seniors but evoke memories. One resident after petting Olive starts to share her life story, talking about how she felt when she was younger and recalls the pets she had when she was growing up.
“This is what it’s about,” Martin says. “It’s so great to hear and listen to their excitement, all because they got to see Olive.”
To view an RSVP podcast on Fairfax Pets On Wheels featuring Ruth Benker, please visit https://youtu.be/m7fRjkWzc60. If you are interested in volunteering with FPOW, please contact RSVP volunteer specialist Carly Hubicki at 703-403-5360 or email Carly at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view a schedule of upcoming free RSVP volunteering in retirement seminars, please click on Your Ideal Volunteer Opportunities
RSVP Northern Virginia, the region’s largest volunteer program for those 55 years-young or better, is a program of Volunteer Fairfax, Volunteer Alexandria and Volunteer Arlington.
Author Morgan Fitzpatrick, from Richmond, Va., is a senior at George Mason University, majoring in communication with a concentration in public relations with a minor in business. Morgan has been interning in the communications departments at Volunteer Fairfax and RSVP Northern Virginia for the fall semester.
Fitzpatrick is also an entrepreneur who debuted her cosmetic line MTF Cosmetics in August 2017. Since the launch Fitzpatrick’s beauty products have been featured in magazines such as PopSugar beauty, Glamour, and Allure.
While at Volunteer Fairfax and at RSVP, she has specialized in the planning and implementation of the groups’ social media marketing plans.