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Make a Difference in Your Life and Others

Become part of an award-winning organization that helps older adults maintain quality of life in their own homes. Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition has about 2,200 neighbors enrolled to receive services such as transportation to medical appointments, the grocery store, physical therapy, dialysis, and other important errands. Other services provided by volunteers include business assistance, handy person help, respite assistance, friendly visiting, pet assistance, and more. VVCC also loans Guardian Angel emergency alert units for eligible older adults at risk for falling.

VVCC’s biggest need is for volunteer drivers. Imagine life in the Verde Valley with no car. Many older adults can no longer drive, but need to get to doctor appointments, do shopping, etc. The public transportation available is often not within walking distance. As a volunteer, you list the days and times that you will be available. You receive a call from the Call Center when a ride is needed at one of your available times. You will be scheduled to make that drive if you can at that time. Mileage can be reimbursed. 

Volunteers get to meet a variety of interesting people. While most trips are to Sedona or Cottonwood, one volunteer, Hank Culbertson, enjoys getting to know the neighbors and hearing their life stories. He particularly likes the long trips and frequently travels from Verde Valley communities to Flagstaff. He’s taken neighbors as far as Phoenix. Hank says, “I want to drive for Caregivers as long as I can.”

While driving is an important part of VVCC services, there are many other opportunities to help. If you are handy around the house, there are small repairs to be made. 

Love to shop? Volunteers are needed to pick up prescriptions, shop for groceries or other items.

Pet lovers can help with care of animals for neighbors recovering from illness or surgery. Pet care is important. One neighbor said of her three little dogs, “They are my only family.”

Family caregivers need breaks to take care of their own needs. Volunteers provide respite for a few hours. Tony Isolda learned about VVCC respite care when his wife was very ill. She got so much out of the visits that when she passed away, he decided he would like to give the gift of respite to others. He has developed a friendship with a 95-year-old neighbor. When Tony visits they read, play games and “have a great time.” Speaking from experience Tony says, “Those visits are better than a million bucks to a neighbor.”

For information about VVCC services and volunteering please call (928) 204-1238. See Volunteer Opportunities for a full list of volunteer opportunities. You decide when and how often you can volunteer.


‘Tis the Season

Each year the Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition has a Holiday Project for the Neighbors they serve. A letter is sent to each Neighbor to find out what they would like as a holiday gift. The Neighbors respond with wishes for warm socks, gloves, pajamas, blanket throw, etc. Some get creative with requests for pet food or pet sweater. 

Many of the Neighbors are quite poor and a new nighty might mean a woman doesn’t have to sleep in her bathrobe anymore. Many of the Neighbors will not receive a gift other than the one they receive from VVCC. One Neighbor requested food for her little dogs because “they are my only family.”

Neighbors who do not feel that they need anything often respond with a thank you note saying things like, “Please use this donation for gifts for others.” Leda wrote, “Thank you for your generous offer. All I need is your continued driving help – I could not manage without it and it has been so reliable.”

As with all VVCC efforts, the project relies on volunteers. Gift requests are hung on giving trees in the Verde Valley libraries and a few churches. People pick the wishes that they want to fulfil and bring the gifts back to the tree. The people of our area are very generous, often bringing extra items, which can be used for those who have not sent their wishes to VVCC in time for the trees.

Once the gifts are in, volunteers deliver the gifts to the Neighbors. Gift delivery is fun because the recipients really appreciate the effort. Neighbor, Lila, called to say that the two ladies who delivered her gift “had necklaces on, that lit up like Christmas lights.” She said it was “delightful and made her day. They also sang, ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’.

Members of the Sedona United Methodist Church deliver gifts in the Village of Oak Creek.

Members of the Sedona United Methodist Church deliver gifts in the Village of Oak Creek.

VVCC Neighbor shot down during WWII

After high school, Wayne, now 95, wanted to be an Army Aviator. World War II had reached the United States, and he wanted wings.  As soon as he turned 18, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After testing, he was accepted for pilot training, which began at Thunder Bird Field in Peoria, Ariz. Wayne completed the program, and, at 19, received his pilot wings! After graduating, he trained to become a pilot of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber. He was assigned a nine-man team of three other officers and six enlisted men, and they finished crew training at Gulfport Army Airfield in Mississippi. Then, they went to Savanna, Georgia, where they were assigned a brand new B17 to transport to Great Briton.

Wayne turned 20 as they made their flight across the Atlantic. The war was getting closer but being in Great Britain was a pleasant experience. Briton had such a need for allied airfields that they built them right in the middle of wheat fields. People were harvesting wheat right around his plane. Young Wayne was very impressed by the British people. “I think we made the difference between whether Briton was going to be there or wasn’t after the war. We loaded the whole island down with airplanes. There were over a 1,000 of these planes by the end of the war.”

Wayne’s crew became part of the 388th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force, the largest air force ever assembled. This force was designed to take-out strategic targets in Germany, ending their ability to fight, more specifically to shorten that war. This was done at a high cost in planes and personnel. The dangers of this mission were Germany’s highly trained air force planes and ground based anti-aircraft missiles. B17 bombers had been designed to fly above the range of enemy anti-aircraft missiles – before the war. By the time Wayne was flying, German fighters and anti-aircraft missiles could reach the higher altitude of the heavily armed bombers, but there was no defense against their missiles. 

The peak of air losses was in 1943, when allies lost 20% of their planes in a two-week period.  On average, only half of their 10-man crew escaped death by parachuting safely. Since their targets were deep into Germany, evasion after parachuting was very unlikely, and you would either be killed in action (KIA) or a prisoner of war (POW). The enemy was not prompt in advising friends and family of those taken prisoner, and POWs were generally termed missing in action (MIA), Wayne said.

On Nov. 26, 1944 his plane was struck by a missile, 26,000 feet over the German city of Hamm., and the aircraft exploded. When he regained consciousness, the cockpit was in shambles, the co-pilot and the engineer were gone, as was the upper turret. There was no sound, the sky was blue, without the top of the fuselage, and Wayne felt that he was in the process of dying... a near-death experience. He managed to disentangle himself from the upside down, burning, spinning wreckage, and parachuted into captivity. As the Germans said, “For you the war is over.”

In the long, cold descent. Wayne counted the parachutes…only four. His thoughts were of all the preparation, all the training for doing the job, and about the responsibility he felt for his crewmates. He wondered how this all came about.

Wayne became a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft #1, a prisoner of war camp for Allied airmen. He was a POW for the last six months of World War 2. The prisoners were being starved, whether by food shortage or to deliberately weaken them, he does not know. At the end of the war, prisoners were being marched out to a meeting place where they would be bartered for Hitler’s life. Stalag Luft #1 was too far away to participate in that March, which was a good thing because many of the prisoners would not have made it, Wayne adds.


The Russians were within one day of reaching the camp, when the Allied commander of this prison camp met with the German commander of the camp and said, “I think you’d better get out of here.” Apparently, the Germans thought that was a good idea, because they left the camp of 5,000 prisoners in the middle of the night. The prisoners broke into the storerooms and got food to eat. The war ended in a few more days, and they were flown to France by B-17s, from the now Russian territory.

Wayne said the experience of being shot down and being in the prison camp has “lasted to this day.”

“The period after the war was the most remarkable period of my life,” he said. “People felt as though they could do anything.” Wayne chose to remain with the Air Force on active duty. He became an air-sea rescue pilot, flying the B17, with a lifeboat attached, repurposed for use for sea rescue. After he left active duty, he remained a member of the Air Force Reserves, went to college, and then became a test pilot for an aircraft company. His first task was to test B-17’s being refitted for service in South America. It seemed strange to pilot the B17 in civilian clothes. He also flight-tested P-51s Mustangs.

Wayne describes himself as a “determined person.” He wanted to understand human behavior, “and get a perspective on why I am still here and justify why I survived when half of my crew were killed.” He completed a Ph.D. in Psychology and Communication. “People make the difference,” he said. And that’s what he got out of his experience. He still lives by the strong military honor code he was taught and the fundamental Christian religious philosophy his grandmother taught him as an adolescent. 

Wayne (left) with his “favorite” VVCC driver, Lee Ann Stapleton. In the background a B17 photo.

Wayne (left) with his “favorite” VVCC driver, Lee Ann Stapleton. In the background a B17 photo.

October 9, 2019--Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition Updates Mission Critical Technology

After several years of searching for new transportation scheduling software to replace the obsolete CARE system, Assisted Rides has been selected to schedule rides for Verde Valley Caregivers client “neighbors”. The new transportation scheduling service has proven reliability and is significantly lower cost than systems used by large transportation companies. Conversion to Assisted Rides has been completed.

Assisted Rides is an Internet based service that can be accessed and used from mobile devices as well as computers. As volunteer drivers learn how to access the service, they find new visibility of the neighbor requests and gain more control over the services they provide.

Now, volunteers can indicate the days and times that they will be available to drive or block out times that they will be unavailable due to vacations, etc.

Volunteers can view the manifest of their scheduled rides with a chart that shows date and time of each scheduled ride, neighbor’s name, address to pick them up, destination address and estimated trip miles.

Volunteers can view pending requests and select additional trips that would fit their schedules in terms of pick-up times and number of miles to be driven. Selected rides are added to the volunteers’ manifests and marked as taken on the requests list. Cathy Kuscavage, a volunteer driver who recently received training on the new system, said “I like Assisted Rides and look forward to using it.”

As volunteers learn to use Assisted Rides to select the requests they can fill for themselves, fewer phone calls will be needed from Call Center Specialists trying to find a volunteer to meet each request for service. This will allow increasing numbers of neighbors to be served by the current Call Center Staff.

Assisted rides also provides a completed trips report for each volunteer, which is helpful for keeping track of volunteer hours and miles for tax reports.

Verde Valley Caregivers Director, Kent Ellsworth says, “Assisted Rides gives us a better way to communicate with our Volunteers and achieve efficiency.”

Lee Ann presents Assisted Rides to VVCC volunteer drivers.

Lee Ann presents Assisted Rides to VVCC volunteer drivers.

May 1, 2019--VVCC volunteers thanked for helping seniors

Celebrating invaluable service is at the heart of Verde Valley Caregiver Coalition’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon held April 18 at Sedona Rouge and Spa. The event honored volunteers who helped 2,200 “neighbors” get the services they need to continue living independently in their homes. Approximately 75 guests and volunteers attended.

“You are helping older adults stay living in their home of choice,” said VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth. “You make the caring difference for so many older adults to continue to enjoy their community, even when they are no longer able to drive.”

Arizona Public Service (APS) co-sponsored the event, while also continuing to help support VVCC’s Guardian Angel Program, which loans emergency alert units to adults at-risk for falling down. 

Lori Green, VVCC Board Member and Vice President for Patient Care Service at Northern Arizona Healthcare shared the status and plans for Northern Arizona Healthcare facilities in the Verde Valley. Green also praised the work of VVCC volunteers who transport neighbors to their medical appointments. 

Ellsworth recognized volunteers who provide various services: drivers, volunteers who do shopping and pick up medications, volunteers who install and maintain emergency alert units, those who help with pet care, respite care, handy person help and business assistance.

“A real connection to others is vital to the well-being of our neighbors,” he said. “Our volunteers make this connection real.” Ellsworth also called for help in recruiting new volunteers, especially drivers.

VVCC’s Call Center, which matches volunteers with neighbor requests and makes referrals to other resources, handles 1,000 calls per week, with a 99% fulfillment rate for rides requested. The Call Center averages 10 new neighbors each week and enrolled 480 new neighbors in 2018.

VVCC currently has 285 volunteer drivers. Ellsworth said that during 2018 volunteers drove over 300,000 miles, provided 27,900 rides and delivered 25,000 volunteer driver hours.

The wheelchair accessible van awarded to VVCC in 2017 traveled 40,000 miles in 2018 making 3,200 trips. And 85% of the trips were for medical appointments, dialysis, pre-and-post op, physical therapy and primary care.

Ellsworth announced Arizona Department of Transportation has awarded VVCC a second wheelchair accessible van. This will help VVCC transport the growing number of seniors who need assistance with mobility issues.

The Guardian Angel emergency alert units are life-saving and VVCC has 430 units currently loaned to adults at risk for falling. 

Ellsworth spoke about the advances being made to VVCC service in 2019. These include new software to assist in the coordination of service requests and new phone technology which will help interoffice communication and response to messages.

Volunteers who went far above and beyond the past year were honored at the event. The most miles driven in 2018 were: 32,702 by Bill Macuri, Cottonwood; 6,040 by John Wozniak, Cornville; 4,859 by Linda Jones, Cornville; and 2,689 by Chuck Burkitt, Cottonwood. Not surprisingly, the most hours of service were supplied by the same foursome: 4,272 by Bill Macuri; 654 hours by Linda Jones, 531 by John Wozniak and 234 by Chuck Burkitt.

In addition, the following volunteers were honored with Service Award Pins for five years of service with VVCC: Chuck Burkitt; Hank Culbertson, Cottonwood; Sean Donovan, Village of Oak Creek; Sally Peck, Sedona; Nancy Rowland, Rimrock; and VVCC Board Member Jeannette Sasmor, Sedona. Ten-year Service Award Pins were given to Debbie Schwartz and Norm Sunstad, Village of Oak Creek. Fifteen-year pins were awarded to Jan Anderson and Joe Scully, Sedona.

VVCC thanks the following businesses for donating gift certificates and prizes given to volunteers during the event: Gifts Galore, Sedona Divine, Mary Fisher Theatre, Olde Sedona restaurant, Massage Matters, Judi’s Restaurant, Kealyn’s Kloset, Sedona Wonder, SNAP Fitness, Jazz Bouquet Floral, Nick’s West Side, Namti Spa, Nancy’s Hair & Nail, American Mattress, Knit Wits, Szechuan Restaurant, Vino di Sedona, Kachina House Southwest Décor, Arizona Public Service and Mad Love Beauty Salon.

Volunteering with VVCC is flexible and includes many fulfilling roles. If you would like to become a VVCC volunteer, contact Kent Ellsworth at (928) 204-1238 or email: kentellsworth@vvcaregivers.org. Visit www.vvcaregivers.org for a full list of volunteer opportunities. 

Chuck Burkitt displays an award certificate received from Kent Ellsworth and Mary Jane Thompson.

Chuck Burkitt displays an award certificate received from Kent Ellsworth and Mary Jane Thompson.

Media Contact

Linda M. Clark

Development & Communications Manager

299 Van Deren, Suite 2

Sedona, AZ 86336


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