As Grand County’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) prepares to close its doors indefinitely, its departing coordinator is working to ensure that volunteer opportunities continue long after she’s gone.
On March 5, the program held its last scheduled thank-you event for dozens of RSVP participants, and Ellis used the occasion to remind them how they can remain involved with local community service organizations.
If they haven’t done so already, Ellis urges current senior volunteers to exchange phone numbers and other contact information with the organizations they serve.
“It does mean that it will take a little more effort on your part,” she said.
Grand Area Mentoring Program Director Dan McNeil also advises anyone who relied on Ellis’ help to stay in touch with friends who are actively involved in local community service organizations.
“They know what’s going on,” he said.
Fortunately Grand Area Mentoring hasn’t had any problems recruiting or retaining volunteers: 57 carefully screened adults get together with students in need of friendship and guidance on a regular basis.
“We haven’t yet seen the impacts because Jody’s been working hard right up until D-Day,” McNeil said.
But McNeil said he is concerned that a coordinator won’t be available in the future to help seniors find volunteer opportunities.
“RSVP has been a great clearinghouse for seniors,” he said.
Some of the local RSVP’s longest-serving members, including 92-year-old Vonna Dalton, have had almost 30 years to build connections with organizations throughout the community.
But after March 31, Ellis is concerned that some of the program’s 84 active volunteers will no longer have the benefit of a full-time coordinator to help them find activities that match their interests.
The Grand County Council voted 5-2 in January to relinquish county sponsorship for the program once its current three-year grant period expires at the end of March.
Although several council members have vowed to find other ways to coordinate senior volunteer work, any program that relies on federal grant funding could be in limbo for the rest of the year.
Ellis said congressionally approved changes have added layers of complexity to the federal grant review process. As a result, a new RSVP could not get off the ground until January 2015 at the earliest, she said.
In the meantime, some RSVP-associated programs will fade away.
According to Ellis, the community will lose $5,500 in transportation funding for Friendly Visitors program volunteers who drive homebound residents to medical appointments in Grand Junction, Salt Lake City and elsewhere.
“That will no longer be available,” she said.
On the other hand, Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) counselors will be available at the Grand County Center to help older residents find prescription drug plans. Those same counselors can also help seniors who have questions about the federal Medicare program, Ellis said.
In addition, the Senior Corps’ Foster Grandparent literacy program, which pairs volunteers with struggling readers at the elementary school level, is working to build a presence in Grand County.
Program volunteers are already serving in neighboring counties. But as of last week, no one in the Moab area had signed up, according to Foster Grandparent Coordinator Lynnsi Hayes.
Ellis is hopeful that AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers will be able to fill any potential voids in other areas, as needed.
“We just need to get one [volunteer] for each organization,” she said.
As for her own future, Ellis isn’t sure what she might end up doing after March 31. But even though she won’t be around to help them, she urged RSVP participants to continue their hard work on behalf of organizations that have made Moab a better place to live.
“I do hope that you will continue to serve, and that they will serve you,” she said.
“Your partnerships and your dedication have made me look really good,” she added. “I’m going to miss you like you won’t believe.”
For more information about the Foster Grandparents program, contact Lynnsi Hayes at: 435-820-6108.
To learn more about Grand Area Mentoring, call Dan McNeil at: 435-260-9646.