FORT?DODGE - The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program is returning to Webster and Hamilton counties starting April 1.
Central Iowa RSVP, which serves Story and Marshall Counties, will expand its RSVP program into the two counties through a state expansion grant.
RSVP is a national service program that engages adults who are 55 years of age of older in volunteer opportunities that meet community needs.
"I'm excited about restoring RSVP to the two communities," Kalen Peterson, Central Iowa RSVP director, said. "Originally I had mixed feelings about expanding because I've been a colleague of (Fort Dodge RSVP director) Jeanine Nemitz and she's been so great to work with over the years that I thought this was a shame. It should be Jeanine, but she was great and very supportive."
Nemitz, director of Fort Dodge's Foster Grandparents program, approves of the expansion.
"I'm excited that RSVP is coming back," she said. "I believe that what RSVP does is very important. It was hard for me, when we were forced to close last summer. I think that the way of the world is to be more efficient and I think it is probably like schools consolidating. I think when programs can consolidate and do things they can do more with the size grants that we have out there."
Fort Dodge's RSVP program ended June 30, 2011 after nine years due to cuts in federal funding. The loss of 40 percent of its funding meant that its limited staff would have to devote most of its time to fundraising.
Nemitz will not be resuming her role as RSVP director.
"RSVP is back, it's just not back in terms of us managing it. The management of it and the grant award has been given to the Story City program, Central Iowa RSVP," she said.
According to Nemitz, the Fort Dodge program couldn't legally be handed over to someone else to manage.
"The legal process for the grants is that the city of Fort Dodge, which was our sponsor, had to legally relinquish," she said. "But the state funds were still specifically for RSVP, and the state funds weren't cut. By us relinquishing, that made those state funds go into a pot for competition."
Nemitz still feels that ending Fort Dodge RSVP was the right decision.
"I don't feel that we were pushed out in any way," she said. "We made the decision that was right for the size of the grants that we had. It was a very calculated and educated decision that we made a year ago. I think that only good things can come from this consolidation."
Peterson anticipates that there will be plenty of seniors in Fort Dodge looking for opportunities to volunteer.
"The project just closed last June, so it's been less than a year," she said. "I imagine there are RSVP volunteers that were sort of displaced when they closed their doors. I think it's still pretty fresh that some of those folks will be glad to get back on board. I'm hoping this will be an opportunity to get seniors matched up to volunteer opportunities."
Central Iowa RSVP will continue and build on activities started by Fort Dodge RSVP, including a pen pal project piloted at Cooper Elementary, Nemitz said.
"We matched up senior citizens with third-grade struggling readers," she said. "They've been writing back and forth twice a month. We went ahead and piloted it this year even though we weren't technically an RSVP, just because we had the plans in place and we wanted to see how it would work."
Also, a transportation program that would allow volunteers to help people get to medical appointments.
"It was something we were not able to do legally, mostly because we were sponsored by the city and there's just a lot of liability issues when you're sponsored by a government agency," Nemitz said.
Central Iowa RSVP, sponsored by the Story County senior citizens, has a federal grant fund in the $75,000-range at its disposal, Nemitz said, to help in its efforts.
"A large program like that, where they've got a director and currently three coordinators in the two counties they serve, can expand into Webster and Hamilton County, and all of the administrative burden of running that still stays with their home office," she said.
With its resources, Central Iowa RSVP will be able to hire a volunteer coordinator for Webster County, Nemitz said.
"While that will just be a part-time job, that person won't have any of the reporting responsibilities, the grant-writing stuff. That person will be able to concentrate purely on volunteer services," she said. "With the small grant we had, that really basically paid for one staff person part time and that person had to do everything. There wasn't as much time to do the people part of it."