Ellis grew up in Moab, but eventually moved away and married. In 2002, her husband was offered an opportunity that allowed the couple to move back to Moab. She soon took a job as a maintenance worker at the Grand County Senior Center.
“All the people there were the ones who babysat me when I was a kid,” Ellis said. “I pretty much knew everybody already.”
Ellis put a great deal of effort into her work, referring to her position as a maintenance engineer. She used every material she could think of to create fun activities for the seniors. Eventually, her hard work was rewarded with a promotion to the position of events coordinator/senior activities director.
In 2006, the woman who had been in charge of RSVP quit, and Ellis took over.The program had been operating in Grand County since 1985 and Vonna Dalton, one of the very first volunteers when the program got off the ground, remained active in the organization until it closed.
Since taking over the RSVP job, Ellis has been responsible for matching approximately 86 local volunteers who were over the age of 55 with organizations or individuals in Moab who needed help.
“We were logging 15,000 hours each year by RSVP volunteers,” she said, noting that those volunteers were doing work that, if paid $12 an hour, adds up to more than $150,000 annually.
“We try to help with the Half Marathon and the Moab Music Festival,” she said. And the group regularly volunteered at WabiSabi, the Moab Free Health Clinic and many other nonprofit organizations around town.
People interested in volunteering would go to Ellis and tell them what they were interested in helping with. They could name specific organizations or skills and Ellis would put them on the list. If something came up that matched their skill set or preferences, Ellis called them to let them know about the opportunity.
“I had a couple of volunteers that were doing 12 different jobs,” she said. “And 90 percent of them were doing at least two jobs.”
Ellis said that Utah has been the top state in terms of volunteer hours for the last 10 years, and Grand County is in the top 10 counties.
“It’s an awesome community,” she said. “The people take care of each other.”
There was no shortage of work for volunteers in the Moab area, but Ellis’s job was to seek out those opportunities. Many of the volunteers will probably continue to serve the organizations that they’re passionate about, but Ellis worries that without RSVP to help them locate options, some volunteers will no longer participate.
“Those volunteers who are volunteering just to stay connected, those are the volunteers who need someone to be there for them,” she said. “They’ll do anything for you, but they need to be asked.”
Ellis worries about the volunteers that she got to know so well.
“[Volunteering] keeps them young and healthy,” she said. “All of our older volunteers are just getting older. Now they’re going to have to seek out those projects.”
Even though the volunteers have had a huge impact on the community, Ellis said she feels that the volunteers themselves benefited even more from giving of their time.
“I saw so much generosity,” she said. “It makes you remember that, to the world, you might just be one little person. But to one person you might be the world.”
Ellis said she’s sad to be leaving behind the work that she’s loved for almost a decade, but she’s excited for new adventures.
“This is just a new segment,” she said. “I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be.”