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Profiles in Service: RSVP Expands Service While Saving Dollars

by Fred Wong

On April 21, 2009, President Obama signed the Serve America Act into law – the most sweeping expansion of national service in a generation. To mark the one year anniversary, we are going to spotlight the stories of everyday service heroes who are transforming lives and local communities across the country.

For 37 years, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Dane County has coordinated a successful Driver Escort/Home Delivered Meal Program that meets the need for transportation for frail elderly as well as for meal delivery to help older citizens stay independent. Close to 600 drivers use their own automobiles to provide transportation and deliver meals in the rural areas of Dane County.

In 2008, RSVP used a Community Development Block Grant to start a pilot program that expanded senior services without an increase in mileage costs in two communities in Dane County. The solution was to apply the grant dollars to lease electric vehicles, thus dubbing the program Neighbor Electric Vehicles (NEV). The organizers found that using NEVs was cost-effective and environmentally-friendly. The vehicles required minimal maintenance and could travel 50 to 70 miles per $1.50 electrical charge. These cost-saving vehicles expanded services that take seniors to doctors’ appointments, non-medical trips, as well as for delivering meals to home-bound seniors.

The program received the national Beverly Foundation 2009 Senior Transportation Service Award (STAR), one of only 21 of 450 applications so recognized for assistance in mobility and transportation for older adults. The STAR award will be used to recruit, train, and coordinate volunteers of the NEV program.

More recently Dane County RSVP has added a new twist to meal delivery. They now have six baby boomer volunteers who deliver meals by bicycle. Meals-on-2-Wheels, coordinated by the Middleton Senior Center began in May 2009. The volunteers deliver the noontime meals to homebound seniors. They deliver between seven and eleven meals at a time, carrying the meals in light –weight trailers with thermal coolers to keep the food at the right temperature. The routes are 5-6 miles long and approximately 40 meals are delivered by bike each day. Delivery riders said they're seeing a good response from the people they visit; even a local bike shop donated a bike for the volunteers to use. The RSVP volunteers report that the clients “get a kick” out of seeing their meals delivered by bike. With an increase in demand, the Middleton Senior Center will soon be adding another bike route to its schedule.

Learn more about RSVP.

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