Big spike in Silver Key volunteer numbers; helps ease crunch from RTA transportation funding cutback

       Volunteer help at Silver Key Senior Services has been on the upswing in recent months - enough to have a plus impact on daily transportation numbers.

Volunteers Sunnie Ford (left) and Yvonne Robitaille sort clothes at the Silver and Such store inside Silver Key offices on Bott Avenue. They are among 560 volunteers now assisting the non-profit agency.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In the first part of this year, the average number of senior trips per day (210 to 220 in 2008) had plummetted more than 25 percent, down to 150 - about what Executive Director David Shaffer had predicted when funding from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) was cut by 25 percent in the RTA's 2009 budget.
       Now, “we're approaching 180, and by the end of the year we hope to be back where we were,” he said. “Volunteers have increased that capacity.”
       The bounty can be seen throughout the Westside-based, non-profit organization, which had suffered an overall volunteer drop-off for a few years following the departure of popular long-time executive director Mikki Krausshar in 2004. According to Shaffer (who was initially hired by Kraushaar in '03) those numbers have skyrocketed from 125 last September to 560 today.

Lorrie Orwig

       While giving much of the credit to an El Pomar Foundation grant that improved volunteer recruitment, training and retention, he praised Lorrie Orwig, the volunteer resources director, who started last fall, for pulling it all together. “She's been a Godsend,” he exulted.
       For her part, Orwig spoke highly of the many citizens who have agreed to work for free and take time to help out seniors, often in a one-to-one manner. “The volunteers stepped up to meet the need,” she said. “We've had help from organizations and individuals as well.”
       One individual who has stepped up is Sunnie Ford. She helps out in the recently reopened Silver 'n Such store that sells well-made donated items and is run completely by volunteers inside the Silver Key facility at 2250 Bott Ave. She said her reason for volunteering was that “I love it. Silver Key is a wonderful institution.”
       There are now about 55 volunteer drivers, Orwig said. To some extent, they are filling in for the five paid drivers who had to be laid off because of the RTA cutback; however, Shaffer emphasized, “Our intent has never been to replace employees with volunteers.” One reason is that each volunteer typically serves just four hours a week, meaning that more people are needed to do the jobs that permanent people once did, requiring careful organization of schedules, he said.
       Working in areas of western and northern El Paso County, Silver Key vans do not typically run set routes. Instead they go where their clients (ages 60 and over) need to go, such as doctor's offices or stores, at no cost except donations. The overall cost per year for that service is about $1 million, with the majority covered through donations. The RTA stipend had been as high as $300,000 in 2006 and 2007, but with reduced revenues in recent times that number dived to $130,000 in 2008 and $93,000 this year.
       Orwig continues to welcome volunteers. For more information, call her at 884-2313.

Westside Pioneer article