They donate their time and gasoline, and they use their personal vehicles.
It’s all to help out those in Sun City Summerlin who no longer drive but have to get to an important appointment, or whose houses require routine handyman help. When needs arise, Sun City Charities aims to be there.
“It’s just neighbors helping neighbors, to help people who don’t drive anymore,” said Michael Lee, president.
Sun City Charities is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In any given month, it has roughly 55 volunteers helping out. Each year, it handles about 600 requests for drives and 400 handyman service calls, it says.
The majority of drives are to get people to doctor appointments and back. Other “drive” calls might be for grocery shopping, banking or pharmacy or to get to the beauty shop. In addition to drive calls, there are handyman calls. The latter might involve screwing in a loose hinge, changing a light bulb or installing a new battery in a smoke alarm. As the volunteers are all retiree-aged themselves, only about half a dozen take the calls that require climbing ladders to access tall ceilings.
“Most people feel pretty good about helping. It’s rewarding,” Lee said. “And you get to know people, hear about their lives. Old people always have interesting things to tell you about their lives. So it enriches your life, I think.”
Jan Oda is one of the people who rely on Sun City Charities’ drivers. She lost her husband, Dick, about eight years ago to lung cancer. Then, last year, she couldn’t renew her driver’s license due to her failing eyesight.
Now, she uses the free service to get to doctor appointments, scheduled as often as three times a month.
“I’m so grateful to them,” Oda said. “It’s a marvelous program. I hope all senior communities have something like this.”
The list of available volunteer drivers is ever-changing. Roughly 20 percent are snowbirds. Others are known to travel extensively. Lee estimated 50 percent of the volunteers handle the majority of calls.
He said some volunteers grow close to those they help and visit them on their own time, without a call for service initiating the trip.
Volunteers determine how much time they can spare.
“Some people only have two days a week that they can help us. Other people are available every single day. It just depends on the person,” said Julie Kisosondi, a volunteer who answers the office phone and schedules people.
This is not an Uber-type service. Drivers do not take people to casinos or the airport, nor do they provide rides to Sun City’s community centers.
“If you’re going to play bridge, then you should be able to get another bridge player to pick you up,” Lee explained.
The farthest drive is perhaps 10 miles, Lee said. There are no day-of calls when someone needs to go somewhere. The organizations requires 48-hour notice to schedule a driver.
“Volunteers have their own lives,” Kisosondi said. “People are not going to sit home and wait for us to call.”
The nonprofit group is totally volunteer-driven. It charges no dues and operates on a shoestring budget. It has no sponsor or corporate host to pay for things such as office supplies or its big-ticket item: liability insurance.
In the early 2000s, the charity nearly shut down for lack of donations.
Kisosondi was staffing the call-in desk when View visited. In between taking calls for service, she shook out the money from a manila envelope and held up the donations: a $5 bill and a $10 bill. Sun City Charities requests donations from those who use its services. They pitch in anywhere from $2 to $12, she said.
“If you were to take a taxi, even a short drive, it would cost you $30 or $40,” Lee said. “So, round trip, $60 or $70. If you did that 500 times, that’s quite a bit of money. And a handyman? It would cost you $50 to $100.”
Having said that, he stressed the group was not out to make money.
“Some people do it to help their neighbor or are just looking for something to do,” Lee said. “… Attrition is always a problem, so we’re always recruiting young people.”
According to a 2016 study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the percentage of people with a driver’s license decreased between 2011 and 2014, a phenomenon that affected all age groups. People older than 55 were more likely to have a driver’s license in 2014 than in 1983. For those 70 and older, 43.6 percent were more likely, a modest decline from 2011 to 2014.
By the numbers
A 2015 study has found that 1 in 4 Americans volunteered with an organization and two-thirds did something to help a neighbor in the past year. Volunteering and Civic Life in America research shows that service to others continues to be is a priority for millions of Americans. In Nevada, roughly 450,000 volunteers put in 56 million hours of free service. In addition, more than 55 percent donating $25 or more to charity.