'Janice Ayres never says never'

When Janice Ayres was hired as executive director for the Nevada Rural Counties Retired and Senior Volunteers Program, it was in debt.

"We had six months left on a transportation contract for five counties and had already run out of money," said Ayres.

The transportation company told her it was not their problem, but for her to figure out. She did just that.

"My first priority was to get out of the red and into the black."

Ayres talked with the board of directors for RSVP and friends Ruby White and Stan Colton.

"I asked Ruby, 'Why don't we do a fair?' Reno had the state fair, other towns had fairs, why couldn't we have a fair in Carson City?

"So I started making phone calls and got about 150 vendors, the carnival people and everything else that went with it. By the time the fair date came along, we already had the carnival end paid for. All the money we made went to our programs. We had a $32,000 profit for RSVP that first year."

Ayres said it was surprising: the research she did said fairs didn't turn profits until their fifth year.

"And this was all coordinated in 90 days. It was truly a community effort."

The RSVP is designed to allow retirees, age 60 and older, to be involved with activities in their community - to keep them active and encourage them to partake in volunteer work. The program fits volunteers with area agencies that have specific needs.

RSVP provides volunteers to about 400 agencies throughout 15 counties in Nevada.

"Though we provide the manpower for these agencies to deliver their services, we still have an identity problem," said Ayres.

"The volunteers have a tendency to say they work for the agency and not RSVP. We're still working on that."

Ayres, herself 80 years old but not looking much past 65, was appointed executive director of RSVP in 1979. Her responsibilities are: program development, fund raising, grant proposals from federal, state and local funds, public/media relations and fiscal management. She also supervises more than 2,000 volunteers and a paid staff of 12.

Ayres' education provided a perfect resume for her work at RSVP. She attended the University of Southern California and received two bachelor's of arts degrees and two master's of arts degrees in business administration and mass communications. She also served on the Carson City Board of Supervisors from 1992-96, and is the chairwoman of the Tri-County Railway Commission. Gov. Kenny Guinn recently appointed Ayres to the Nevada Commission on Aging.

From 1954-1959, Ayres was the marketing director for Disneyland Inc. in Anaheim, Calif., where she was responsible for promoting the "Magic Kingdom."

"In my spare time, I raise about $1 million a year for RSVP. This is in addition to the money we get from federal and state dollars. Even after all the money is appropriated, you have to do as much paperwork as if applying for a grant. It never ends."

In her office, where the walls lined with certificates and awards, Ayres said a good portion of her time is spent grant writing and doing promotions for RSVP through advertising and news releases in Carson City as well as 14 other counties, almost 100,000 square miles. The two not covered by her program are Washoe and Clark counties.

"I'm always impressed with our volunteers," said Ayres. "They keep themselves up, their whole persona. They take very good care of themselves. We all try to be role models as much as we can. This state would be in dire straits if this program ever went away.

"They know they're important because they're helping others. In America, we dwell too much on age - we're too youth oriented.

"Age is only an attitude. If you keep up with what's happening, you can write down any figure you want to be, and be that age. I think age shows experience and maturity."

Time after time people ask Ayres how she handles such a demanding job.

"I tell them it's like eating an elephant - one slice at a time."

Ayres has lived in Carson City since 1976. She enjoys arranging flowers and interior decorating. She also helps take care of her sister Betty, an accomplished artist and musician, who lives with her.

"Thank goodness she also has a wonderful sense of humor."


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