Human Interest

Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition is cruising to stardom with a recent national recognition and award. The nonprofit won the National Volunteer Transportation Center’s 2016 Grand Star Award, and along with it, a brand-new Toyota Sienna mobility vehicle.

Verde Valley Caregivers provides free rides to qualifying older adults who don’t have any independent method of transportation. From hospital visits to grocery shopping, from down the street to downtown Phoenix, VVCC volunteers help get these otherwise stationary people where they need to go.

“This van is going to be a caregiver multiplier for us,” said George Ault, president of the VVCC’s board of directors.

Although the van was officially unveiled in a ceremony Tuesday, July 25, VVCC has been using it daily since the van arrived on July 3 — and they’ve already driven it more than 1,000 miles.

With a lowered floor, power ramp and room for up to three wheelchairs, the van allows VVCC to comfortably serve those who have the most difficulty getting around. It’s the first van NVTC has awarded since it began a partnership with Toyota a few years ago.

“It’s a beautiful vehicle,” VVCC executive director Kent Ellsworth said. “It’s extremely modified to assure that we can provide the best service possible for people with mobility issues.”

Through a public company, similar accommodations for a wheelchair-bound person might cost hundreds of dollars for a trip to a doctor’s appointment in Scottsdale, Ellsworth said. With this van, VVCC now has the ability to provide that service for free.

The National Volunteer Transportation Center, an initiative of the Community Transportation Association of America, holds the annual Star Awards to recognize nonprofits that serve the transportation needs of senior adults.

In a rigorous application process, Ellsworth spent two weeks putting together a report detailing VVCC’s volunteer drivers and the population they serve, which he submitted in August. The center’s team of 20 judges spent months researching and deliberating, announcing the award winners this April. VVCC won the Grand Star Award from a pool of more than 140 other applicants.

“It really is an extraordinary program,” NVTC director Helen Kerschner said. “One of the things Verde Valley has going for it is the community involvement.”

Members from all over the VVCC community came to mark the van’s unveiling, including several volunteer drivers, the VVCC board of directors, Mayor Sandy Moriarty, Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Randy Garrison and representatives from both NVTC and Toyota.

VVCC’s 180 volunteer drivers provide more than 200 rides a day, amounting in 250,000 miles driven per year and 1,800 neighbors served.

“The secret to our success is truly community engagement,” Ellsworth said. “That’s the strength of Sedona and the Verde Valley. People do care, and they follow up that caring not just with words, but with actions.”


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