"We want to mobilize them so they don't have to be institutionalized just because they can't drive," explained Elaine Welch, executive director of the novel program.
Welch was approached about starting the program here by the Brentwood Senior Transportation Committee, which was formed by the Brentwood Senior Club. Drivers are all volunteers who use their own vehicles to transport clients. The committee had 19 people volunteer to drive.
"We have a community that has really turned out and supported this program," said Audrey Formosa, one of the committee members. "This is wonderful for our seniors who can't drive or afford a cab, and live out of the loop of Dial-a-Ride. Transportation is a big issue with our seniors."
Welch conducted two four-hour classes last week for volunteers, covering such issues as how to safely help clients in and out of cars, what to do if a client should fall, tips on how to handle shopping trips, and making sure you see the house keys before closing the door.
"They've got to show you the keys," Welch told volunteer drivers. "They may say, 'Yes, they're in my purse.' But then when you return home they aren't in the purse - they were left on a table."
Sometimes clients also like to be driven to church. "Church is often very important to seniors," Welch said. "It's like the last vestige of their family."
Rides for Seniors was started in September of 2005 and has grown quickly throughout the county. "What we're doing is new," Welch said. "We're inventing something here. This is more than giving rides; it's really a movement."
The only qualification for clients is to be at least 60 years of age. "We don't have financial requirements," said Welch. "Some of our clients are living at the poverty level. Others are of considerable means. That doesn't matter."
Welch said that volunteer drivers will be going to a lot of eye appointments.
"That's one of the most common medical problems," she said. "And it's also something to be aware of when walking with seniors. You need to talk them through the walk. Tell them when you're approaching a curb.
"Sometimes completely blind people walk better than those who have visual impairment because the blind have had training."
For more information about the program, call 284-8328.