Nevada County hopes to work with nonprofits to revitalize RSVP volunteer program | TheUnion.com

Nevada County hopes to work with nonprofits to revitalize RSVP volunteer program

Every year, hundreds of volunteers donate thousands of hours in Nevada County — and more than 400 of those seniors and retirees were recruited and placed through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Nevada County. But the robust and extremely successful program just got the axe due to reported financial constraints.

And that has left area nonprofits, and county government officials, scrambling to fill the gap both for the short term and in the future.

On Nov. 22, the Agency on Aging/Area 4 announced that it was terminating the RSVP project in Nevada County and had relinquished its federal grant effective Dec. 31.

The agency, based in Sacramento, is responsible for administering programs through the Older Americans Act, said Executive Director Pam Miller. About 30 years ago, the agency applied for the RSVP grant funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and has been running the program in Nevada County ever since.

"It's always been successful," Miller said.

But success came at a cost, which the agency decided it did not want to shoulder any longer.

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"We have been running in a deficit for years," Miller said.

The federal grant is for $68,275 a year, but the program costs the agency $115,000 a year to administer, she said. Most of that paid for two part-time staff members and office space in Grass Valley.

The balance was coming out of the agency's general fund — so the agency decided two years ago that it would not reapply for the grant, Miller said.

The grant is set to expire in March. But because donations have been down, a decision was made to close down by the end of this year.

"Shutting down this program was a very difficult and huge decision for us," Miller said. "It has had a very successful run for so many years, but it's just cost-prohibitive for us to continue."

Miller stressed that closing down the program should not affect the 425 volunteers already in place.

"They can stay where they are," she said. "This only affects recruiting new volunteers."

Grant money

According to Miller, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that funds the program, denied a request to increase the amount of the grant.

Miller said the corporation also indicated that Nevada County would not be allowed to compete for the grant in the next funding cycle.

"My hope had been that another agency in the area would be able to apply (for the grant) and be successful," she said. "It doesn't sound like they will float it out."

Miller said she was told the corporation intended to divert that funding to bigger counties, but a spokeswoman for the federal funding entity said that was not the case.

The Agency for Aging/Area 4 has relinquished its funding for the RSVP program, confirmed Samantha Warfield, adding, "Typically, we do seek to fill that same slot."

The corporation will conduct a "replacement competition," a competitive process that names a new sponsor in the region, she said.

Those competitions happen several times a year, most recently in April. Nevada County will be included in the next expansion/replacement competition, Warfield said, but she could not provide a specific timeline for that process.

Miller has been working with some of Nevada County's nonprofits, as well as county government officials, to maintain services.

In the meantime

The transition has been a little more abrupt than expected, said county Director of Social Services Mike Dent, who has been tasked with leading the effort both to create stop-gap measures and to find a long-term solution to continue a local volunteer program.

"We're using 211 (Connecting Point) to help any nonprofit entity or volunteer to get questions answered in the interim," Dent said.

Other activities being transitioned include the telephone reassurance line, where volunteers connect with seniors who might be isolated or have health issues; FREED is taking that on, said Assistant County Executive Officer Alison Lehman.

Mileage reimbursement — which was a concern for several nonprofits that use volunteer drivers — has been partially funded by the county and that should continue, Lehman said.

The county provided $15,000 in matching funds to the Agency on Aging, which was used for mileage, she explained, adding, "The county has a commitment to continue that $15,000 for future volunteer activities."

Down the road

Dent's mission is both to find a new local home for the volunteer program — and to expand it beyond its original scope.

"You don't have to be 55, retired or a senior to volunteer," he said. "This can be a hub for volunteering."

Dent plans to send out a request within the next month to local nonprofit agencies for "letters of interest," he said.

"Is anyone interested in taking this on?" he asked, adding that if he gets multiple responses he would issue a more formal request for proposals.

He also plans to contact the more than 40 agencies that use RSVP volunteers, to poll them on their needs and their willingness to pitch in financially.

Both Dent and Lehman are looking to have a new program in place by the start of the next fiscal year, in July 2018.

The bottom line, Lehman said, is sustaining volunteerism in the community.

"The hard part is going to be funding," Dent said. "I feel we can do it locally with less money, but that (remains) to be seen."

Dent said that a review of RSVP's data showed a total of 82,416 volunteer hours had been donated in a 15-month period, adding, "It's an important system we need to maintain."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.