Sunday, March 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, March 4, 2001

Honorable Mention
Volunteers discover joy in life of giving

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Helping Hands Hawai'i is just one of the organizations that benefit from Agnes and Al Silva's selfless volunteer work with the elderly

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Al and Agnes Silva

• Ages: 76 and 77, respectively

• Hometown: Kahala; they also live part time in California and Utah

• Family: Three children, 14 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren

• Position: Retired radar tracking technician and accountant, respectively

• Accomplishment: When in Hawaii, the Silvas volunteer their time with Meals on Wheels and RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) at Helping Hands Hawaii. When visiting family on the Mainland, they help feed the homeless and visit the elderly.

• Quote: "I feel we have been blessed with so many good things - family and everything else - that it’s payback time," Al Silva said.

World travelers, devout Catholics, avid tennis players.

Al and Agnes Silva definitely could be described as such.

But beyond their genuine politeness and polished carriage, the Kahala couple have a strong belief in giving back. No matter how, no matter where they are.

With three children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren living in California and Utah, the Silvas travel about six months out of the year, splitting their time among homes in three states.

Wherever they are, they seek out opportunities to do something tangible for the community. It could be as simple as driving the elderly to church on Sundays or as time-consuming as delivering hot meals to homebound seniors. Whatever they do, they do it with smiles on their faces and an appetite to do more.

"They are the true essence of the positive, giving, caring volunteers we have," raved Norma K. Koenig, director of RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) at Helping Hands Hawaii, where Al volunteers in the program office. "They want to be committed, they care for the community. They are the type of people I feel comfortable calling. If they can (help out), they will. If they can’t, they won’t. They’re family."

Passion for helping others

Spend an afternoon with the Silvas and their passion for helping others becomes obvious.

And so does their affection for each other.

They end each other’s sentences and comment on each other’s thoughts. They both love traveling - Yugoslavia is their favorite destination - and for the same reasons. They playfully tease each other and nod knowingly while the other is talking.

"At the senior homes (where we volunteer), you can’t tell the difference between me and the seniors," Al joked.

Chimed in Agnes: "Speak for yourself."

It’s what 52 years of marriage does, they say. And volunteering has kept them vital.

"We like to do it," Al said. "It makes us feel good."

For the past five years, Al and Agnes, both in their mid-70s, have taken pleasure in helping other seniors and retirees. Some are their age, some are even younger. They can relate to them, understand what they’re going through. And in return they realize how lucky they are to be in good health.

"It makes us feel young," Agnes said. "We can still do our own thing. We can still take care of ourselves."

Being blessed with health is just one of the reasons the couple makes time to volunteer. Instead of just playing tennis every day and traveling to exotic locations without a care in the world, the Silvas stay in one place long enough to commit to a community service.

During the five winter months they’re in Honolulu, the Silvas volunteer at Meals on Wheels, delivering hot lunches to 12 seniors in the Kapiolani area twice a week, on top of Al’s work in the RSVP office.

"They’re a phone call away," Koenig said. "(Al’s) great on the phone, on the computer."

Koenig even recruited Al to sand, paint and install a wooden counter in the office a few months ago.

"It’s not his favorite activity," she said. "But he did it."

Added Agnes, with twinkling eyes: "He won’t do it at home, but he’ll do it here."

You gotta do something’

Al and Agnes met at Pearl Harbor in 1945. Ecuador-born Al had been drafted in the Navy after being in America for only a few months. Agnes was working there as an accountant.

Both cherished family, saw traveling as an education and played tennis.

Although they were always community-conscious, the pair didn’t start volunteering until five years ago. It was a message during a sermon at a Catholic church in Utah that ignited their passion for giving back.

"The priest said coming to church doesn’t make you a good person," Al recalled with clarity. "You gotta do something. That really hit me."

Volunteering has changed their perspective on life. But traveling the globe has opened their eyes.

"We don’t appreciate (what we have)," Agnes said. "People should do more traveling, see the disadvantages other people have."

Despite their accomplishments, great and small, the Silvas see there’s still more they could do.

"I’d love to do a lot more," Al said. "Volunteer work, something that’s gratifying. I’d love to teach math."

But teaching requires a commitment of time in one place, and the Silvas aren’t ready to donate their airline miles just yet.

"Maybe some day," Al said with a smile, "we’ll settle down."

Getting involved with RSVP

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) matches adults 55 and older with volunteer opportunities on Oahu. These opportunities include tutoring children, delivering meals to home-bound seniors and cleaning up beaches.

For information about RSVP, call 536-6543 or visit

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