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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

April 1, 2005

HelpVan lives up to the name

by Samantha Beres

I have this fantasy that my car dies and my husband and I push it just over the ISU property line. Then we call the ISU HelpVan for a free jump-start.

Would they come? Sure, said Marcia Clendenen, who supervises the van. As long as it's on ISU property, the HelpVan responds to students, faculty, staff and visitors of Iowa State who need a jump-start, a tire change or a ride to the nearest gas station. Since July, the HelpVan has done nearly 900 jump-starts.

The HelpVan is run by the Parking Division, where Clendenen has worked for 28 years. When she attended a conference 11 years ago and learned about motorist assist programs, she got excited about the prospect of bringing a positive light to parking. She came home and helped start the ISU HelpVan and said it has been the highlight of her career.

"I love my job. I love working with the students. But we're seen as the nasty people who write parking tickets," she said. "We're seen in a more positive light because of the HelpVan."

Student and driver Jon Canfield agreed. "When I drive the parking trucks, I get nasty looks and people scowl at me. I pull up in the HelpVan and everybody's smiling and waving. It's a totally different aspect of parking."

The van -- filled with a jump battery pack (two others are always charging), jumper cables, regular and hydraulic jacks, large air tank, lug wrenches and other tools -- almost always is driven by student employees.

It runs nearly around the clock, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday when school is in session, and answers an average of 2,500 calls a year.

Most people on campus know what the HelpVan does, but once in a blue moon someone calls in for more than just a jump-start. Once, a student called to ask if the HelpVan would come over with two guys to move her out of her dorm room. Someone called recently looking for a shuttle from a local conference to the Des Moines airport.

Dispatch politely declined. However, the HelpVan does stay busy when it's not answering motorist assist calls. In spare time, it's backup for the campus escort service, or the driver puts on the amber lights and cruises parking lots to prevent vandalism (drivers call the police if they see anything suspicious).

Clendenen said that overall, the HelpVan keeps the campus a safer place.

"I'm sure it's helped in the outlying areas with vandalism," she said. "When it's bitter cold, jump-starts take priority. If we're backed up, we tell people, 'Give us your phone number and go inside.'"

And what about those poor folks who break down just outside the border of ISU property? Well, it has happened a few times, Clendenen said. And while the HelpVan can't respond to these folks, she does not recommend pushing the car anywhere just for a free jump-start.


10-year profile (1994-2004)

Students 22,416 84.67%
Faculty/staff 2,732 10.32%
Visitors 1,328 5.02%
Total 26,476
Help Van

HelpVan student employee Theresa Redding jump-starts the car of student Brian Thuesen last week. Photo by Bob Elbert.


HelpVan: 7:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday morning (when school is in session), call 4-4444.