At risk of not being able to continue transportation programming or reimburse volunteer drivers for mileage and vehicle maintenance for the second time this year, the Jasper County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) approached the board of supervisors Tuesday to request further financial assistance.
Bill Ward, a member of the RSVP advisory committee, described to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors about the “absolute explosion” of interest and need in RSVP’s Jasper County RIDE program, a volunteer-based transit system of sorts that transports 193 citizens across the region to medically necessary appointments and doctor’s visits.
But funds are running short to keep the Jasper County RIDE program afloat.
“We would like to have the board consider providing some assistance to get us through the year,” Ward said. “… We’re approximately $2,500 short. And we would deeply appreciate the board’s consideration to assist in this endeavor to get us through the year because it is such an important program.”
The Jasper County Board of Supervisors had already budgeted a $2,500 increase in funding to RSVP — a shift from $7,500 to $10,000 — for the next fiscal year. Supervisors unanimously agreed to advance $2,500 to RSVP, and voted to approve transfer.
Ward offered to present RSVP quarterly reports to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors to track the program’s progress.
In March, RSVP noted a sudden increase in rides and had run out of funds. In response, the Newton-based Advantage Credit Union announced it would match donations to RSVP up to $1,000. The City of Newton also donated $1,000 at the time. In April, Advantage Credit Union said in a Facebook post that it had collected $2,414 in private donations, raising the total to $4,414.
RSVP anticipates its clients will continue to increase. In the past six months, RSVP accepted 40 new clients into the Jasper County RIDE program, while its network of 21 volunteer drivers reported a record number of activity. Drivers gave 575 rides in 2017. A year later, that total jumped to 879 rides.
Since January of this year, drivers have conducted 510 rides to citizens in Jasper County, almost as much as the rides recorded two years ago. Ward expects RSVP could “well exceed 1,000 rides.”
Volunteer drivers are only reimbursed at a fixed rate for gas and regular vehicle upkeep like oil changes. Ward said there are some drivers in the RSVP program that have opted not to take mileage money because “they feel they can handle it.”
Donita Huegel, program assistant of Jasper County RSVP, said rides are sometimes “doubled or tripled up” as much as possible to save on mileage, but there are instances where that is not possible. Especially when the program serves people from all across the county.
“It’s not just Newton residents,” Huegel said. “We do have RIDE clients that come from every where, so (the supervisors’ help) is very much appreciated so we can continue to give the rides that are needed.”
Citizens are sometimes taken as far as Marshalltown, Des Moines or Iowa City to reach their medical appointments. From January to May, RSVP drivers have accumulated about 25,215 miles. In 2017 and 2018, the program recorded drivers drove a total of 38,682 and 59,330 miles.
To keep up with the increased demand for transportation services, Ward acknowledged the RSVP program and its advisory committee will have to seek as many funding alternatives as possible so as to not “put all the burden on the city and the county.”
Denice Fischer, director of Jasper County RSVP, said the program receives program funding from the county, the state, the City of Newton, United Way of Jasper County and private donators, as well as federal funds primarily for staff members.
“I think the influx has been mostly for the RIDE program, and that’s mostly because of the mileage reimbursement,” Fischer said. “We have so much designated for that and then with such an increase in rides that continue to grow every month, obviously the budget doesn’t stretch as far as we would hope.”
Turning folks away from rides is not something RSVP wants to do, especially when those appointments could be life-saving.
“So we do everything possible to meet those needs,” Fischer said.
Anyone interested in becoming a Jasper County RIDE driver for RSVP are encouraged to call Fischer at 641-792-6433.