Where Volunteers Make a Difference

Volunteers Drive Connections

Chuck and Kay Spelbring

For Kay and Chuck Spelbring, who have been married 37 years, volunteering is a team effort.  The duo volunteers for RSVP of Dane County's Driver Services Program, which offers free rides to medical appointments.  Kay drives and is the Sun Prairie area Driver Services Coordinator, and Chuck has been driving for the program for almost 20 years.

Kay fields calls out of their Sun Prairie home and matches volunteer drivers with those needing a ride.  While a big part of the job is staying organized and assigning drivers, Kay said a favorite aspect is meeting people and hearing their stories.

"I like driving because I like talking to the people," she said.  "It's fun; you learn about people.  Sometimes, these ladies, their kids don't come and visit them often, and they just want to talk - and, boy, all you have to do is listen."

Kay and Chuck described a past regular passenger from Norway who told of her WWII experience.  They also talked about a woman who is known for giving "history lessons" while being driven through Madison's Williamson Street area and one awestruck woman who hadn't been to the city much and described downtown Madison buildings as skyscrapers.

The RSVP Driver Services Program celebrated its 40th anniversary in October, and Driver Services Manager Gene Kundert said coordinators and dedicated drivers like the Spelbrings help keep it going strong.  The program currently has about 745 drivers county-wide and served 1,128 passengers last year.

The program gives volunteer drivers 51 cents per mile to cover driving expenses, and drivers take donations to RSVP from passengers who can contribute, Kundert said.

The RSVP Driver Services programs include rides to medical appointments, home-delivered meals and the Vets Helping Vets Program, which Kundert said launched in 2011 and has taken off since then.  Chuck, a Korean War veteran, drives for Vets Helping Vets.

While the Spelbrings said they enjoy meeting new people, they also noted how the program has lead to meaningful friendships.  Chuck said Kay and one woman she drivers regularly get along "like sister."

"We talk a mile a minute," Kay said, chuckling.

"They go out, and you won't see them for the rest of the afternoon," Chuck added.  RSVP allows drivers to take passengers to go shopping as long as it's paired with a higher priority trip.

Kay said talking with passengers can help make their day a little better, despite going to medical appointments.  She said passengers are often nervous to be going to the doctor, but seem to be in a better mood after she gets them to open up about their family or hobbies in the car ride there.

When asked how long they plan to continue volunteering with RSVP, Chuck responded, "until somebody kills me or something kills me" with a laugh.  That dedication has lead both Chuck and Kay to win President's Lifetime Achievement awards in recognition of their service.

Written by Katie Caron, Intern at The Star Hometown News

Photo credit:  Tamar Myers