Volunteer Action Center acts as ‘mom’ to elderly

By Bill Schwingel

Even if you have been married for 40 years and have three children and seven grandchildren, it doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the benefits of someone who will drive you to work, take you to the doctor or make you lunch.

The Voluntary Action Center, 1606 Bethany Rd., Sycamore, acts as a “mom” for more than 1,500 people in DeKalb County. The center has four programs to assist people who are 60 and older, as well as physically handicapped individuals.

The programs include TransVAC, MedVAC, FOOD and Meals on Wheels. TransVAC uses 15 minibuses to transport individuals to work, field trips, and to five FOOD sites throughout DeKalb County, said Bob Brayfield, VAC executive director.

MedVac uses four vehicles to transport individuals to medical facilities for any specialized care not available in DeKalb County, Brayfield said. The MedVAC program is a volunteer organization.

The VAC program began in 1974 and the FOOD program began in 1975. The two programs merged in 1987, said Ron Jordan, FOOD program director.

The FOOD program provides lunch for about 325 people each day and about 1,700 people each year, Jordan said. The program has about 1,300 volunteers working in the FOOD and Meals on Wheels programs. The Meals on Wheels program takes lunches to people physically unable to leave their homes.

FOOD also provides emergency meal kits that consist of nine “shelved” meals. Meals are distributed from one of five sites in case bad weather prohibits people from going to a site. The meals also can be used for evening meals, he said.

The FOOD program offers nutritional education, which involves frequent talks at each meal site by nutritionists and NIU interns, Jordan said.

Five FOOD program sites feed the elderly through outlets in DeKalb County: the DeKalb Senior Center, the Sycamore Community Center, the Genoa Chamberlain Park, the Shabbona Church of Christ and the Sandwich Fox Valley Older Adult Service.

The VAC program assists other community programs in DeKalb County. These programs include the Senior Center of the Family Services Agency, DeKalb, the Ben Gordon Center, DeKalb, the Barb City Manor retirement home, DeKalb, and Opportunity House, a home in Sycamore for mentally and physically handicapped adults.

Marcia Osterhout, Senior Center program coordinator, said the VAC program provides transportation to the Senior Center, work places and special trips to restaurants and shopping areas. “We try to link services (the Family Services Agency and the VAC) together and cooperate,” she said.

“VAC vans (transports) a lot of our clients,” said Rick Johnson, Ben Gordon Center community educator. It is “quite a super service” and the VAC program is “to be commended,” he said.

“Everyone uses it (TransVAC) at some point,” Ellen Tyne, Barb City Manor assistant administrator, said. Tyne is in charge of activities at the retirement home.

The VAC “helps our residents greatly,” Tyne said. “It gives them independence.” The VAC program also takes the residents to a doctor when they need medical assistance, she said.

Opportunity House uses the transportation facilities for the individuals to get to jobs and workshops, said Program Director Fred Kraiss.

The physically handicapped find it difficult to get to work, so they use the TransVAC facilities, Kraiss said. “VAC has just been great.”