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Volunteer-Driven Transport Service a Lifeline for Many in Westchester
When Sheila Harvey was in a car accident close to 10 years ago and had no way to get to and from work, she turned to RideConnect of Family Services of Westchester for help.
Each day, Harvey was transported from Chappaqua Transportation, where she worked as a bus monitor at the time, to her residence in Bedford Hills.
Eventually forced from work due to lumbar stenosis, she has continued to call RideConnect, which provides free transportation to people throughout Westchester, for her twice-a-week doctors’ appointments. For Harvey, the service has been a godsend.
“I would be calling taxis, spending a whole bunch of money that I don’t have and stuff like that,” she said.
Harvey is one of hundreds of clients around the county that has availed themselves of RideConnect, which picks up and drops off anywhere within Westchester’s borders. Marietta Manoni, the service’s mobility manager, said now that more people are leaving their homes with the pandemic having apparently abated, the demand for rides is stronger than ever.
In September alone, RideConnect volunteer drivers transported 175 different clients on 1,024 rides, a more than 35 percent increase compared to September 2019, according to Manoni. The service had effectively shut down during the onslaught of the pandemic.
“It works out really, really well for a lot of people, and we’ve had a lot of people who couldn’t get ground transportation or who would be paying several hundred dollars a week for rides, especially the dialysis people, and they go three to four times a week,” Manoni said. “So we have been lifesavers to them. People are very, very happy with us.”
However, the demand for transportation has begun to outpace the supply of volunteers. While RideConnect looks to find a ride for every requested call, it sometimes might require at least two days advance notice to line up a driver, Manoni said. People should be aware that the service isn’t a taxi company but a volunteer effort, she said.
RideConnect is always looking for more drivers, even if it’s for one or two rides a week. Currently, it has a roster of more than 300 volunteers, although Manoni estimated that there is a core group of about 50 to 75 drivers.
The shortage is particularly acute in southern Westchester, which has a larger population and the need is greater.
“Our biggest challenge is trying to find rides for people in the lower portion of the county, places like New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Yonkers. Those are very, very hard for sure,” Manoni said. “We’re always looking for volunteers and it’s extremely hard to get them, but we do the best we can, and the few that we have down there are really great.”
Some volunteer drivers are retirees, while others find time to pitch in when they are off, or in the case of some soccer moms, when their children are at school, she said.
One of the regular volunteers for about the last five years is Anne Golden of Briarcliff Manor. A retired employment attorney, Golden said she came across an item in a newspaper asking for drivers. For someone who enjoys driving, she said she receives “immense satisfaction” by helping others in the community.
“I enjoy it so much. I have met wonderful people, wonderful seniors – some of them are younger than me – but it doesn’t matter, and I’ve made some very close friends among the people that I drive,” said Golden, who has driven about four days a week. “I love to see them, and when I couldn’t drive during the pandemic, I missed my people so much I had to start again.”
For Harvey, she feels safer with RideConnect’s volunteers than with some livery services. Regularly transported by Golden, she’s also made a close friend.
“She is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best people I have ever, ever met in my entire life,” Harvey said.
Manoni said RideConnect conducts a background check for each prospective volunteer. They must have a sound, reliable car, enjoy driving, like the demographics of the people that they would serve, like to be in the company of older adults, who are the predominant number of clients, and be able to exhibit empathy.
The service also helps seniors socialize, she said.
“Our program is great because we don’t just do medical rides, we do everything within reason,” Manonis said. “We don’t go outside of Westchester, we don’t go to the five boroughs, but we do grocery shopping, social events, hairdressers, which is a huge thing for people, for women in their 70s and 80s.”
For questions or more information, either about volunteering or utilizing, call 914-864-2036 or visit www.rideconnectwestchester.org.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/