The Grand County Council voted 5-2 on Jan. 21 to relinquish sponsorship for the program once its current three-year grant expires on March 31. Council members Lynn Jackson, Patricia Holyoak, Jim Nyland and Rory Paxman supported Gene Ciarus’ motion, while Ken Ballantyne and Elizabeth Tubbs opposed it.
Despite their votes, both Ciarus and Jackson said they are committed to finding some way to keep RSVP going.
“We are not abandoning this program,” Jackson said.
RSVP has come to rely heavily on the county in recent years, following congressionally approved cuts to federal grant funding.
During the current grant period, for instance, the county chipped in with $50,113 each year, or 71 percent of the program’s total annual budget.
That’s far beyond the 10 to 30 percent in matching contributions that sponsoring entities are required to make, according to RSVP Program Director Jody Ellis.
“They’ve been very supportive,” Ellis said. “They’ve been very, very good to me.”
This year, however, the county council has no clear idea whether Congress will reauthorize the federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which accounts for nearly 12 percent of the county’s general fund budget.
“They felt they couldn’t take the chance, I guess,” Ellis said.
Ellis knew there was a possibility that the county council might cancel its sponsorship of the program after 14 years, since the county’s previously approved budget for 2014 did not fund it beyond March 31.
At the same time, though, she said she’s somewhat surprised by the action, considering the documented benefits that the program brings to the community.
“My head’s still reeling,” she said.
Other RSVPs around the country have taken similar hits in recent years. In 2011 alone, federal funding for the programs dropped by 12 percent, according to Ellis.
“It’s just getting harder and harder to get federal money,” she said. “A lot of rural counties are going through this right now.”
Despite those trends, Ellis believes that communities reap huge benefits for every $300 to $400 they spend to support each volunteer for a year.
A study by the National Association of RSVP Directors found that the median annual costs to pay for one senior’s private home-based nursing care would fund an entire RSVP program for a full year or more.
In Grand County, the public library, the family support center, the Moab Free Health Clinic, Head Start and Seekhaven are among the many local entities that have benefited from RSVP’s help over the years.
“I’ve seen how much they’ve grown and the things they’ve accomplished, and I know it’s because of the support they’ve gotten from their volunteers,” Ellis said.
RSVP volunteers also help older residents get from one place to another, whether they need rides to medical appointments in Grand Junction and Salt Lake City, or to run simple errands around town.
The program’s 86 active volunteers are ultimately there for each other, as well.
Some people step forward to serve because they’re passionate about a program; others may be working to remain socially active.
“It’s healthy to volunteer,” Ellis said. “Those are the ones that I’m worried about.”
Ellis takes some comfort in the fact that AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers will still be out and about in the community on April 1.
“It is nice to know that the organizations they’re placed in are in good hands,” she said. “I wish that 10 more organizations would get a VISTA volunteer – then I wouldn’t worry at all.”
As for the future of RSVP, Ellis will work with community service organizations and others to ensure that they can hold on to the volunteers they have.
She encourages anyone who is interested in the future of the program to attend an upcoming volunteer recognition and recruitment expo at the Grand Center. The expo is set to run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on March 5.
“Hopefully, we can make some connections (there),” she said.
Beyond that date, there’s always a possibility that another community-based organization could take the county’s place.
“Anyone can apply for it, as long as they can show that they can sustain the program,” she said.
But the federal application review process takes time, and Ellis said it’s her understanding that a new sponsor could not officially fill the county’s shoes until January 2015.
As the only full-time RSVP staff member, Ellis’ own future is perhaps even more uncertain.
She’s scheduled to work her last official day on the job just two weeks shy of her 11-year anniversary with the program.
“This has been my home for 11 years,” she said.
Although she doesn’t know what the future holds in store for her, she remains optimistic.
“I believe that when one door closes, another one opens,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that I’ll be serving someone somewhere.”