West Chester volunteers get kick out of driving senior residents

Bryant and fellow driver Gene Hendel, both senior citizens themselves, say they love driving people to doctors appointments, the grocery store, hair appointments, the West Chester Activity Center and other places seniors who can’t drive, can’t get to. Hendel said some seniors can feel “trapped” in their homes and this service allows them to be independent longer.

“It makes you feel good because you are doing that and you can see the instant gratification,” Bryant said. “The instant payoff, how important it is to people. I had a job in law enforcement for 30 years and for me a good day was locking the cuffs on somebody and locking them up or seizing something from them. So in my case, this is really nice.”

The township provides two vans, one wheelchair accessible, and the program is run by six volunteer drivers, three substitute drivers, one paid — by Partners in Prime — and three volunteer dispatchers. Township Spokeswoman Barb Wilson said in 2015 they operated 143 days, made 2,534 client trips and drove 22,507 miles. She said the volunteers logged 2,089 hours.

The service runs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays for residents older than age 60 and handicapped residents younger than 60 if they are confined to a wheelchair or legally blind. The farthest south the drivers will go is Galbraith Road, and Bryant said he has even been to Franklin, but most of the trips are within the county.

Bryant and Hendel have been driving for two years now and they said they could really use some more volunteers.

“We only run three days a week and that’s why it would be nice to get more drivers,” Bryant said. “Not too far before our time I guess they ran four if not five days a week but there was a loss of drivers. People who had been driving for a long time were starting to retire for the second or third time.”

Hendel noted that the volunteer drivers can’t just get behind the wheel, they have to get training in CPR, defensive driving, and they are fingerprinted and drug tested.

Hendel drove 82-year-old Rita Penny and 84-year-old Mary Kiewert home from the activity center on Thursday and both women said the service is invaluable to them.

“I look forward to it. I have a lot of friends here and it’s a good activity, good lunch, all around good,” Penny said adding she wouldn’t be able to travel out much without the service.

“It means a lot,” Kiewert said. “It means I can get out and do something instead of sitting at home on the couch.”

Melody O’Day, the coordinator at the activity center, said the transportation service is a key component of the goals of Partners in Prime, the organization that runs the activity center.

“We try to keep them independent in their own homes,” she said. “We don’t want them to be isolated, we want them to be social among people their own ages. That’s what we’re all about. We’re all about spiritual, mental and physical connection and growth… The transportation is very important to us.”

Volunteers are encouraged to call 513-777-5900 and potential clients can call 513-759-7208 to schedule a ride.

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