John is retired and his retirement income barely meets his daily needs, the medications he requires, and the incidental expenses that never seem to go away. Although he does the best he can and doesn’t like to complain, he can’t even afford a fan to cool his tiny apartment, let alone an air conditioner. Mary has greater mobility than John and isn’t retired, but her medical needs are just as great. Without family members to offer her aid, she still pays her own way but the medications she takes render her especially vulnerable to dehydration and she suffers in heat and humidity. Circumstances and individual conditions can sometimes come together in the perfect storm and threaten the energies and the very life of many individuals in our community that are usually out of sight and out of mind. While many not for profit agencies exist to meet human needs, virtually no other agency meets the needs of providing cooling to senior citizens like the Voluntary Action Center.
The Air Conditioner Program of the Voluntary Action Center began with a donation in 2002. Since the Center exists to match volunteers with not for profit agencies with volunteer needs, meeting requests seemed a natural part of the job description. One fellow called the office to see if there was a need for a “volunteer” air conditioner for which he no longer had any use. Although it was outside of the normal definition of VAC’s activities, then Director, Lynnette Newton, offered to find it a home. It didn’t take a lot of work to find the volunteer air conditioner a home, and—thanks to the word of mouth of a satisfied client—a program was born. Since the first unit came into VAC’s hands, over 357 units have been placed in the homes of seniors in Rock County. Working in conjunction with the Rock County Council on Aging the program seeks to alleviate conditions for seniors who suffer from neglect, including the self-neglect of inadequate heating or cooling needs. As the program grew, it came to be defined so as to benefit those who meet the following criteria: 1) seniors (over the age of 60) in Rock County,2) with low income (verifiable by living in subsidized housing, having a Quest or Forward card or other means of proving low income) and 4) with a medical condition or conditions that are exaggerated by high heat and humidity (verified by a note from a doctor or health professional, affirming a medical need).
The program has been well received. Since the Voluntary Action Center is a not for profit agency, it has been dependent upon donations since its inception. Citizens have donated their used but working units and some corporations have donated new ones. In recent years, hard economic times have seen the corporate donations vanish, but the generosity of citizens has allowed the program to continue nevertheless. In 2012, VAC has seen an increase in the number of donors who are contributing multiple units, including the harder to secure sleeve air conditioners which are most often placed in apartment complexes where the wall opening for a unit is already part of the design. Most residences require standard window air conditioners. VAC has also seen the number of requests double compared to any previous year. Due to outstanding community response, VAC has been able to convert cash donations into brand new units, via cooperation with two local merchants--Menard's and WalMart.
Because the aim is to provide the health-compromised individuals with at least one room in the house as a refuge from high heat and humidity, the request has been for units under 10,000 BTUs, in working condition. Recipients are asked to provide proof of low income and a note from a health care professional that indicates they have a condition that would be alleviated by the use of an air conditioner. Pick up and delivery of the units has also been dependent upon the willingness and availability of volunteers, where the applicants are unable to come to the Center’s office on 611 E. Grand in Beloit. Monetary donations to VAC enable the purchase of new, small window units at lower prices than a donor would pay at retail. While numbers do not tell the whole story, participants in the Center’s program can be assured that their efforts have literally saved someone’s life. Call (608) 365-1278 to apply or request more information.