Serving Seniors One Ride at a Time
by Maureen McGarry RSVP/Volunteer Center of the Redwoods Director
In the award-winning 1989 film, “Driving Miss Daisy,” the character of Miss Daisy (played by Jessica Tandy) feels vulnerable, anxious, and frustrated because she needs transportation and is unable to drive herself. By driving her to the Piggly Wiggly store, and elsewhere, the character of Hoke Colburn (played by Morgan Freeman) performs an invaluable service for her, one that is needed by an increasing number of seniors in Humboldt County.
Fortunately, the Area 1 Agency on Aging (A1AA) has a program that provides free rides to medical appointments and the grocery store for those 50 and over. When there are enough volunteer drivers, this important service can provide rides from as far north as Trinidad, as far south as Scotia, and as far east as Blue Lake.
“We really need more drivers,” says Val Lovelace, coordinator of the A1AA’s Volunteer Driver Program. “Every week I have to tell some people that I’m sorry I can’t help them. Primarily, the rides are for medical needs. Lately, we have only been able to provide rides for clients who request grocery shopping two times a month.” The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is helping to get the word out about the need for more volunteer drivers.
Lovelace says that volunteers use their own cars to provide rides. A criminal history background check, a DMV report, and adequate insurance are required. She also does a visual check of each volunteer’s car, and has the drivers take her for a test ride before she connects them with clients. The volunteer drivers have quarterly group meetings at A1AA to share issues and experiences and receive additional training.
Once signed up, volunteer drivers can log into an online calendar to set up rides. For volunteer who don’t use computers, Lovelace is there to help make the connections. Some funds are available for mileage reimbursement if the volunteer requests it. Currently, the program has 32 volunteers who are able to provide rides. Unfortunately, this is not enough to meet the demand.
“Sometimes volunteers are unavailable for several months due to vacation or illness,” reports Lovelace. “Also, although most of the medical providers are in Eureka, sometimes someone needs a ride from Fortuna to get to an appointment in Arcata. These circumstances can make it harder to find a driver.”
Lovelace says the feedback from clients reminds her of how impactful this volunteer service is for the 682 clients currently signed up for rides. Many report that the drivers are very nice, and they look forward to the social connection that naturally occurs en route to appointments. Most other options (such as taxis and other private driver services) can cost as much as a bag of groceries for a week, which can be difficult for someone living on a fixed income. Last year, volunteer drivers provided over 1,000 rides.
To celebrate these valuable volunteers, and to inspire new drivers, A1AA is collaborating with the Eureka Theater for a matinee showing of the film, “Driving Miss Daisy” on February 10, 2019. The Eureka Theater is at 612 F Street in downtown Eureka. Current volunteer drivers with the program get in free. There will be a $5 charge for all others who attend.
To become a volunteer driver, contact A1AA at 442-3763 and ask about signing up. And see you at the movies!