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Drivers needed to help keep valuable Story County program on the road

Sue Harms, left, is a volunteer with the Volunteer Driver Transportation Program in Story County. She is shown helping a client, Josephine Romswinckel, in Nevada. The program is overseen by Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Story County. Nevada and Story City are two communities where more volunteer drivers are desperately needed. (Photo courtesy of Arti Sanghi)
Sue Harms, left, is a volunteer with the Volunteer Driver Transportation Program in Story County. She is shown helping a client, Josephine Romswinckel, in Nevada. The program is overseen by Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Story County. Nevada and Story City are two communities where more volunteer drivers are desperately needed. (Photo courtesy of Arti Sanghi)

Hopping in the car and going where we need to go is a luxury many of us take for granted.

For some, especially many in the elderly population, this luxury doesn’t exist, and getting to medical appointments and other places that they need to visit can become a challenge.

Thankfully for many of these people, the Volunteer Driver Transportation Program (VDTP), managed by Central Iowa RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program), is operating in Story County. According to RSVP Director Kalen Petersen, VDTP has 114 registered clients, ranging in age from 18 to 103. The average age of the clients being served is 79.

“Although this service is available to Story County residents of all ages, nearly all of our users are elderly residents who do not drive any longer, but still live in their own homes or apartments,” Petersen said.

Helping to serve the needs of these 114 people are volunteer drivers, who currently number 39. At this time, Petersen said new drivers are very much needed in the communities of Nevada and Story City.

“This is a very rewarding and meaningful volunteer opportunity,” Petersen said, “because this is an essential service that can help residents stay independent and maintain control of their everyday lives.” She quotes one of the program’s drivers, who said, “I enjoy not only providing the rides, but also enjoy all the life’s journeys the riders share with me. It has been my life’s work to help those in need, and through this program and other opportunities through RSVP, I can continue helping people.”

Petersen said clients who utilize VDTP are appreciative of those who drive. She asks that people who might have the ability to help, consider becoming part of this volunteer effort.

To become a volunteer driver, a person needs to meet the following criteria:

— be willing to be part of a pool of volunteers who are called on an as-needed basis;

— be willing to use your personal vehicle;

— have a valid driver’s license and good driving record;

— be willing to have a background check/driver record check conducted;

— be able to provide proof of (full) insurance coverage;

— be willing to attend a volunteer driver training program provided by the RSVP staff;

— enjoy being with people and show a desire to help individuals with needs for special transportation;

— be willing to follow agency policies and procedures as related to the VDTP;

— and, while it’s not required, it’s preferred that volunteer drivers cary a functioning cell phone.

Petersen said the duties of volunteer drivers vary. “Some are available to take multiple trips each week, while others may be available a few times a month,” she said. “The volunteers communicate with us regarding their availability, and we respect their schedules.”

Petersen said RSVP also has a database platform that keeps track of volunteer, client and trip data. “Drivers that wish to do so can access the trip information in the platform and schedule themselves for trips. Otherwise, we contact the drivers about upcoming trips to see if they are available,” Petersen said. She notes that the program averages about 18 trips per week. “We want to make sure that our driver pool is large enough that we are not over-extending any of our volunteers.”

Without a volunteer driver program, Petersen said it would be difficult for many of the county’s residents to get to places they need to get to. While there are other very good services that provide transportation — HIRTA and Cy-Ride — “no one provider can be there for everyone who needs transportation. For most of our clients, it is important for them to have someone who can give the personal service that can only be provided by an individual driver.”

The Story County Volunteer Driver and Transportation Program grew out of a countywide needs assessment that was done in 2005. That assessment showed transportation as one of the top three health and quality of life issues among the county’s residents. As a result, United Way of Story County established the Story County Transportation Collaboration, bringing together transportation providers, human services agencies and representatives from the faith-based community to develop collaborative solutions to transportation needs in the county. With start-up money from the United Way, RSVP began developing and managing the program as a pilot project in 2010. In that first year, 40 clients registered, 38 of those took a total of 213 trips given by 29 volunteer drivers.

“After one year, the program had proven success and became a permanent service provided by RSVP,” Petersen said.

To date, the program has received support from United Way, the Story County Community Foundation, Story County and the city of Ames. With that support, RSVP is able to carry out the tasks of volunteer recruitment and management, client assessment and registration, administration and evaluation of policies and procedures, along with trip/driver scheduling, follow-up program evaluation, volunteer recognition and other program needs.

At this time it’s most important, Petersen said, to grow the group of volunteer drivers, especially in the communities of Nevada and Story City. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer driver or just learning more about this volunteer opportunity, please contact Arti Sanghi at 515-292-8890 or Kalen Petersen at 515-733-4917. You can also send an email to: coordinator@cirsvp.org.

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