Doug Robbins has a long history of working to help under-served populations and others in need.
"I was a former ombudsman, enforcing the rights of patients in convalescent homes. I was also a member of the Committee for Benevolences at my church, the Rocky Hill Congregational Church," he stated.
RHCC was the first local house of worship to get involved with the Care Team Network, a now-defunct, Alabama-based organization that trained teams of volunteers to provide task-oriented assistance to members of their communities with health difficulties or other special needs. The church proceeded to recruit four other congregations to the group: Church of St. Andrew the Apostle, Rocky Hill United Methodist Church, St. Elizabeth Seton Roman Catholic Church, and St. James Roman Catholic Church.
As he became more deeply involved with the endeavor, Robbins learned of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant that was "available to coalitions of churches" who were involved in the kind of work that his ecumenical partnership was already performing.
In 2002, the town of Rocky Hill became a partner in the project, co-administering it through the Human Services Department, along with the network of churches. The town eventually insisted on a name change from the original title of Faith in Action Care Teams to the current, secularized name of Volunteer Care Teams, due to church-and-state considerations.
Regardless of changes in its status and structure, the organization now called VCT has persisted in its mission. "We do all kinds of things," proclaims Robbins, VCT's director, including "repair work, lawn mowing, shrub trimming, other yard work, shopping, the life history recordings we make, some housekeeping, and a lot of transportation."
Human Services Director Mark Williams especially appreciates the latter function. Williams's department coordinates three transportation services that serve persons who have trouble getting around; however, only VCT's service is staffed by volunteers, so when town offices close for holidays, it is the the only one that still provides rides to those that need them.
The primary challenge VCT faces is in securing funding. The program costs $17,500 to operate annually, but only $7,500 comes from the town. The remaining $10,000 must be obtained through private donations and corporate grants.
The Robert Wood Johnson grant was merely "seed money," Williams clarified. "It was a one-time, start-up grant, and the intention was for the program to become self-sufficient over time."
Most of the private money VCT receives comes from the five churches, but Robbins admits that several of the them are not in position to offer much financial support, although "they help out in other ways," such as facility provision and other, non-monetary contributions.
Corporate grants provide a larger portion of the organization's budget, but here Robbins encounters another obstacle. While acknowledging the generosity of businesses that have participated in the past, he explains, "we can't keep coming back to the same companies every year."
In 2011, VCT received grants from Walmart, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and the Henkel Corporation. "But, we can only ask the same businesses for help maybe every three or four years," Robbins continued.
A related problem that the group confronts is volunteers' lack of availability to fund-raise. While its team is extraordinarily committed—38 individuals provided 1400 hours of service to 33 households last year—they do not have time to devote to extensive fundraising without curtailing client assistance, the demand for which is ever-growing.
Williams concedes that "every year there's the stress" over "whether we're going to be able to keep operating." "But, we always do," he assured confidently.
Williams also explained the nature of VCT's inspiration to continue its toils, beyond the intrinsic satisfaction of altruism. "Community feedback has been very positive, and that keeps us motivated to keep it going," he stated.
"We're very proud of the program."
The Volunteer Care Teams office can be found in the town's Human Services Department on the 2nd floor at 699 Old Main St., above the police station. To contribute or volunteer your services to VCT, contact Human Services at (860) 258-2799.