Sep. 16—MANKATO — More volunteer drivers are needed for a VINE transportation program for older residents, and a recent partnership between the nonprofit and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program could help recruit them.
VINE's Door2Door program assists Mankatoans and North Mankatoans age 60 and older with transportation to medical appointments or other nearby trips. The nonprofit previously drew solely from its volunteer pool to provide the rides.
With volunteer numbers dropping during the COVID-19 pandemic, though, VINE joined Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota's RSVP program in August.
The partnership has Mary Cassem, active aging program administrator with Catholic Charities, feeling optimistic about helping VINE find new drivers.
"I'm hopeful that by partnering with VINE, they're going to get some of our volunteers who are already enrolled with us because they're looking for something different," she said.
RSVP, part of Senior Corps, connects residents age 55 and older to local volunteer opportunities, from VINE to ECHO Food Shelf to Meals on Wheels. So VINE joining RSVP means the former now has access to a wider volunteer pool for its transportation program.
More volunteers would be a big help for VINE and the people who'd otherwise face transportation barriers, said Paige Schuette, VINE's marketing and communications manager. It was getting harder to maintain enough volunteers under the previous system during the pandemic.
"The need is obviously still there," Schuette said. "The need continues to grow, but unfortunately we've seen a steady decline of volunteers."
One reason for the decline is volunteers feeling less safe in close quarters to other people during the pandemic. Older adults also seem to be living busier lives in recent years, including stepping into caretaker roles for grandchildren or taking part-time jobs in retirement.
The steady volunteer decline was happening pre-pandemic, Schuette said. It just accelerated during the pandemic.
"We realize we have to try new things," she said. "This is one opportunity for us to try."
Being a volunteer driver is a flexible gig. You take on as many or as few rides as you want as often as you want.
The service has a built-in purpose beyond getting people from point A to point B. Drivers also offer a social outlet for passengers, helping address isolation among older adults.
A good candidate for driving would be one who likes to meet new people, Cassem said. Especially for the people needing to go to weekly medical appointments, regular drivers are likely to build connections.
Drivers automatically receive supplemental insurance policies when they enroll through RSVP. They can also receive mileage reimbursements.
The first month-plus of the partnership showed promising signs, Cassem said. However, there's still a sizable need for drivers.
"We could easily use another 50 people," she said. "We just have to make them aware that there's a need out there."
To learn more about volunteering as a driver or for other programs through RSVP, Cassem encouraged people to call her at 507-458-9687 or email her at MCassem@ccsomn.org.
VINE holds orientations for new volunteers. Schuette advised people to call 507-387-1666 and ask for Adam or Joyce to get started.
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