59-year-old Lillie Lanser is one of the millions of Americans affected by the economic downturn. She spent years as a legal secretary, but when she was laid off in 2009, Lanser realized that unemployment allowed her to pursue a new direction in her life – service. As a volunteer, she found a passion for giving back and created the Cancer Pilot Transport Program while an RSVP volunteer with Senior Corps.
Typically, RSVP volunteers provide transportation to medical appointments for homebound or disabled seniors through the Assistance for Independent Living Center, a program of East Valley Adult Resources.
When Lanser began giving rides to a cancer patient, she realized these patients needed a special volunteer they could count on and build a strong relationship with in case anything happened. Professional transport companies for cancer patients exist, but they are costly and not always reliable. And so, the Cancer Pilot Transport Program was born.
An RSVP volunteer with the Cancer Pilot Transport Program is assigned to one patient, driving them to chemotherapy and radiation appointments throughout the duration of their treatment. The volunteers usually work every day, as these treatments are long and time-intensive.
The relationship developed between the volunteers and clients allows for the volunteers to act as advocates for their clients, who many times do not have family to speak on their behalf. Currently, there are 28 RSVP volunteers giving their time to the Cancer Transport Patient Pilot.
As a volunteer, Lanser built a relationship with her clients. Oftentimes, she would even stay with the client at the doctor's office, helping with questions they might have and taking notes on the doctor's instructions.
“They just feel comfortable with you and know they can count on you to be there every time,” said Lanser. “I never imagined myself doing this -- hated going to hospitals. Now, it's so natural to go along with the clients and be their advocate.”
“These patients don't have families to look after them – that's why they need us. RSVP volunteers are so important to their health and well-being. And we need them. I would have been sitting home, doing nothing and getting depressed. I need to be doing something valuable and this is so fulfilling,” said Lanser.
Lanser herself has served more than 3,000 hours, earning a President's Volunteer Service Award. Her work as an RSVP volunteer also led to a term with AmeriCorps, currently serving at Mesa's Assistance for Independent Living. As an AmeriCorps member, she works with the volunteer coordinator and home care coordinator to ensure clients receive the appropriate care as needed.
“Older Americans come with great skills and are so valuable for nonprofits in the community. Volunteering has given me a chance to give back to my community and I am so grateful,” said Lanser.