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Where Volunteers Make a Difference

When Bob and Karen Downing signed on as volunteer drivers for RSVP’s Driver Escort Program at the Colonial Club in Sun Prairie, they knew they would be helping people, but perhaps didn’t realize just how deeply their kindness could affect someone’s life.

Take for example, Dee Witt -- we like to think that the karma of kindness circles back to its source and in Dee Witt’s case it did. As someone who valued kindness throughout her life, Dee Witt saw it returned to her when the Downings regularly drove over this past year, to visit with her son who was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s and passed away early this summer at the age of 54. Because Dee no longer drives, this allowed her time with her son that she might not otherwise have been able to have. This sad time was made a little lighter by kindness.

What’s most lovely about this trio is their shared good humor – being with the three of them, it’s clear by the banter that they are friends – friends who know each other well enough to tease and laugh together, share updates on shared acquaintances and just enjoy their time together.

These three were recently featured on Channel 3’s Live at Four 'Buzzed Into Madison' segment with host Emmy Fink, where the light shone on their special relationship. What the feature didn’t have time to delve into was the deep history of volunteerism that the three of them have in common.

Throughout her life Dee Witt invested hundreds of hours as a volunteer herself – she was among the first volunteers when Colonial Cub was formed and served on their board, corresponded with students as an RSVP Computer Buddy for 15 years, worked as a Crime Prevention Specialist with Triad of Dane County for 11 years, made after-school calls to students to check on their safety for two years, and served as a tutor/classroom grandparent for 12 years. When Dee commits to something, she means it!

With careers that spanned several decades each, Bob as a Sun Prairie high school teacher and coach and Karen as a UW Madison admissions professional, the Downings know about commitment as well. The pair live an active lifestyle where golfing, bowling, travelling extensively and attending grandkids’ sports events keep them busy. Still, the couple carves out time to drive passengers to medical appointments 2-3 times a week, and Bob delivers corneas for the Lions Club and serves meals at Sunshine Food Pantry several times a year with other members of the Lions Club and Knights of Columbus.

In a time when so many feel isolated from their communities, examples like this one show both a pathway to connect to others and a tool to battle the feeling of isolation for both the giver and recipient – volunteerism!

If you are interested in reaching out as a volunteer driver in your community, contact RSVP Driver Services Co-Manager Mary Schmelzer, 608-441-7896 or .

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