DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Frances Peoples, 89, right, a volunteer for almost 32 years, helps out at the St. Anthony Church store every Friday in Kailua. Shown with Peoples are fellow volunteers Betty Akeo, left, and Nona Simao. Peoples will be among those honored by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in a ceremony today. CLICK FOR LARGE
Ceremony honors 32-year volunteer
Frances Peoples has been a people person for almost 32 years.
That's the longest any volunteer has worked for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.
Peoples, 89, will be introduced as "the grand dame of volunteers" by RSVP Director Norma Koenig at a ceremony honoring 400 senior citizens today.
RSVP, sponsored by the state Department of Human Services, is also celebrating its 35th anniversary at the awards ceremony from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ala Moana Hotel.
"You got to have to like people," Peoples said about volunteering. "They may look kinda mean, but you gotta love 'em anyway."
Koenig described Peoples as "a legend," adding, "She's like a queen."
By the end of 2006, Peoples had devoted 1,691 hours to volunteerism, 220 last year alone.
"Our volunteers are the backbone of our community. They give the priceless gift of time day in and day out," Koenig added. "We don't pay volunteers because they are worthless, but because they are priceless."
Peoples' first job under RSVP started in October 1975 with the Kailua Senior Club, demonstrating craft-making and entertaining at day-care centers. Her favorite activity became playing the ukulele and singing and dancing with the club's choral group and the Na Mele Manu Aloha.
"I love to play music, I love to sing. ... (Now) I try to dance sitting down with a walker," said Peoples, who fell and hurt her left leg early this year.
Peoples and her husband, John, started delivering food and performing other errands for needy families with the Honolulu Community Action Group in the 1980s. In 1990, she and her husband were honored as the Senior Citizen Couple of the Year at the mayor's annual recognition event, a year before his death.
But having to use a walker (equipped with wheels, a seat and a basket in front) has not deterred her entirely from delivering meals to elderly shut-ins -- "I don't want to give it up" -- even though her volunteer hours have dwindled considerably.
"I don't think you should stay home and feel sorry for yourself. When you stay home, you're going to feel worse," Peoples said, adding, "There are people worse off than you are."
She had to give up driving last year because of a numb right knee, but she gets rides from one of her family members, Peoples said. Her inability to drive was the only thing that put an end to her other activities, which included taking cancer patients to appointments and feeding hospital patients.
Every Friday she volunteers at the second-hand store of her church, St. Anthony's in Kailua.
"I'm teaching my grandchildren to help others, and quite a few do the same thing I do," said Peoples, who has five children, 26 grandchildren, 54 great grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren.
Besides her compassion and desire to help others, one of the secrets to maintaining an active lifestyle is attributed to eating "a lot of vegetables and fruits. I do not care for meat."