PAIA - For more than 20 years, 87-year-old Noah Leong has been volunteering his services throughout Maui.
He's driven to Kula to befriend a lonely man, delivered meals to the elderly and now takes senior citizens to the doctor and to the grocery store when they have no one else to help them.
"I enjoy it," said Leong, a widower. "It's like I told you, only lonely people volunteer. But with me, even though I have lots to do, I feel, oh, why stay home. There's a lot of people in the community that need help. So it's easy for me. I go out every day. I get to talk to people instead of just staying home."
On Friday, Leong and around 325 other senior citizens and retirees - many of whom would say they aren't lonely at all - gathered at the Kaunoa Senior Center to be recognized for their volunteerism with a program and lunch.
The participants are part of Kaunoa's Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). From July 2008 to June 2009, RSVP volunteers collectively served nearly 118,000 hours with nonprofit agencies and organizations, public schools, human services and other government programs throughout Maui County.
Based on the current nationally recognized value of $20.25 for a volunteer hour, the value of RSVP volunteers' contributions to the community exceeded $2.3 million, according to Kaunoa.
"I think you are the glue that holds Maui together," said guest speaker Leslie Wilcox, who is president and CEO of PBS Hawaii.
Wilcox, a former broadcast and newspaper journalist, told the crowd that there is no such thing as just a "small thing" when helping others.
She said at the nonprofit Public Broadcasting Service on Oahu, more than 350 volunteers save the station "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by donating their time.
Mayor Charmaine Tavares said the retirees and seniors are county "treasures" who have caring hearts and souls and accomplish things that the county could not do on its own.
"We couldn't do it without you," she said. "You folks are a huge force. . . . It shows throughout our county every single day."
RSVP is in its 38th year in Maui County and has 1,500 participants. Many of the program's members don't attend the luncheon because they say they don't need the recognition or would rather spend the time volunteering, said Dana Acosta, RSVP director.
The program is administered through Maui County's Department of Housing and Human Concerns with three-fourths of its funds coming from the county and one-fourth coming from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.
The program operates by engaging people 55 and "better" to volunteer with various organizations and agencies.
"Anyone who retires has no excuse to say they're bored. There is so much need for volunteers," said Edie Tyau, a 70-year-old retired nurse from Makawao.
Tyau, who was bashful talking about her volunteer efforts, said she reads to children at Iao Preschool, and also participates in a Kaiser Permanente program where she reads to youngsters at the clinic.
She said she loves children and books and thinks it is important to educate children about reading.
Tyau, a grandmother of five, also volunteers on Sundays at Hale Makua, where she visits with patients.
Leong is a volunteer with the assisted transportation program at Kaunoa, where he helps elders who cannot drive or don't have family to help them get around the island.
"I've made a lot of close friends," Leong said.
Leong's usual routes are to doctors' offices, stores and day-care centers.
Leong said he has an easy time getting around the island, as he knows many of the streets especially well as a retired state highways painting supervisor.
Even though he was enjoying the program at Kaunoa on Friday morning, Leong said he would be volunteering his time later in the day, with plans to pick up a senior at Hale Mahaolu on Friday afternoon and take her shopping at Safeway.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.