Despite refusing to follow new rules, Burbank secures grant for volunteer program

Burbank was approved for a $43,000 grant for its Retired Senior Volunteer Program, surprising city officials who had thought they were out of contention after refusing to comply with new funding guidelines that would have required a program overhaul.

For four decades, the Corporation for National and Community Service has subsidized a portion of the program, which boasts nearly 700 volunteers.

But last year, the corporation attempted to narrow volunteer efforts to address six areas — disaster services, education, healthy futures, environmental stewardship, veterans and military families, and economic opportunity. The new guidelines also called for reducing the number of volunteers by more than 200.

The new guidelines left 70 local agencies unwilling to comply, tossing their grant applications, according to a city report. But the Burbank City Council in the fall decided to go for the grant anyway.

Apparently, the decision to go for the money despite not complying with the grant requirements bore some fruit.

“Clearly, it was a great idea,” said Judie Wilke, director of park, recreation and community services, adding that officials were “totally surprised” by the news. “We really did not change our program to reflect their goals for this next year.”

Last year, the program’s 675 volunteers — ranging in age from 55 to 99 — contributed 141,981 hours at schools, museums, hospitals, nursing homes and libraries.

Independent Sector — a coalition of nonprofits supporting public service — pegs the value of one volunteer hour in California at $24.18. That means Burbank RSVP volunteers collectively provided about $3.4 million worth of services last year.

The grant funds make up about a quarter of the program’s roughly $180,000 annual operating budget. Had the program not been awarded the grant, Wilke said the city likely would have absorbed the costs.

“I think we would’ve found a way to make it happen,” she said. “This program has and will continue to be a huge asset to this city and the community — I think we are invested in making it successful.”

Even so, with the city grappling with $2.5 million in cuts to balance the budget this fiscal year, receiving the grant relieves city officials of having to identify other funding sources to support the program.

-- Alene Tchekmedyian,

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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