“The biggest suffering these people go through is worry — who am I going to call to take me to my appointment? I’ve got to get to my appointment,” Richard Hoffman said, sitting in the kitchen of the home where he has lived with his wife for more than half a century.
Fortunately for Stoughton, Hoffman is able to provide relief for that worry.
Nearly 12 years ago, he accepted a driving position for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a national nonprofit that provides free transportation to medical appointments for seniors.
Today, he’s Stoughton’s RSVP coordinator, volunteering 60 hours a week in the only community he’s ever called home. The phone in his kitchen rings 30 to 50 times a week, with people on the other end looking for transportation. Between 2007 to 2017, he drove more than 66,000 miles for the group.
Hoffman offers direct relationships to riders and drivers but he also serves on the RSVP Finance Committee Chair, Grant Committee Chair, Personnel Committee Chair and is an Executive Committee Member.
In addition to his time with RSVP, four years ago, he gave life back to a free transportation service that provides rides to people with low to moderate income. The Affordable Transportation Program, which was nearly expired, gave more than 240 rides in 2018. Hoffman is its sole director.
He uses a paper calendar to coordinate all rides. His wife, Aurelia, often has to tell him to get off the computer because he is constantly working, although she finds herself answering RSVP phone calls, too.
And on July 16, Hoffman will celebrate his 80th birthday.
“If I’m getting up in the morning and breathing, I’m going to do this job,” he said.
He has won two distinguished service awards this summer alone: In April, the United Way of Dane County’s Distinguished Service Award and in June, Governor’s Service Recognition Award for Senior Corps Participant of the Year.
Hoffman won both awards on unanimous votes.
“Well, it is nice to see my names on these awards, but I sure wish you could have put ‘Richard Hoffman and drivers,’” he said.
Volunteering for RSVP
After a 30-year banking career, Hoffman started volunteering with RSVP, driving seniors age 60 and older years to medical appointments. Three years later, the former coordinator asked him to be her successor if anything ever happened.
Hoffman agreed, thinking nothing of it, but then she died just weeks later from a heart attack.
He asked the organization to take over the coordinator position, even though he knew little about it.
“I couldn’t sleep knowing I had made that promise,” Hoffman said.
That was nearly 10 years ago. Since then, volunteer drivers increased from nine to 25 with very little turnover. The number of rides RSVP provides has also increased every year and in 2018, he coordinated 661 rides for 89 passengers.
In Hoffman’s award nomination letter, Dane County Department of Human Services transportation manager Jane Betzig wrote that “due to the dedication and commitment to volunteerism, the Stoughton RSVP Program is a success.”
RSVP Dane County executive director Margie Zutter said it is the amount of companionship Hoffman provides that makes him special. She mentioned how one of his riders who recently passed away mentioned Hoffman in his obituary.
“His whole personality is kind,” she said.
Filling a need
In 2015, after being with RSVP for eight years, Hoffman noticed a gap in the Stoughton’s transportation services.
A program through Stoughton United Ministries offering free transportation to people of low to moderate income was shutting down, and Hoffman began getting phone calls asking to use RSVP.
“I’d have to say (to the callers) if you are not 60, I can’t take you. I’m sorry. And that really bothered me,” he said.
Hoffman then volunteered to coordinate that program as well. Today, known as The Affordable Transportation Program, it’s thriving. In 2018, 246 rides were given out of Stoughton.
“There are all the people, for one reason or another, have been shut out of our community because there is not transportation services,” said Hoffman.
Free service includes rides to employment services, license renewal, court services, voter registration and more.
Hoffman, however, often takes people on rides even if they don’t qualify for either program. He admits that he is good at this position because he loves it so much.
“Think, what would those people do without transportation?” Hoffman asked. “Knowing that, I can’t say no.”