RACINE — For Marcia Mozol, the Volunteer Center of Racine County’s new MyRide program means she can remain independent. Mozol, a senior citizen who doesn’t drive, uses the transportation service to get to and from the grocery store, the hairdresser, medical appointments and more.
“I can do a lot of things now that I couldn’t do without MyRide,” Mozol said.
She isn’t alone in that need. The MyRide program currently has more than 60 riders, many of whom, like Mozol, were members of the now-defunct ITNRacine County transportation service, according to Jenni Chap, senior transportation coordinator with the Volunteer Center. And, with more drivers, MyRide could serve more community members, she said.
The VCRC opened its MyRide program soon after ITNRacine County closed down at the end of January. The local ITN (Independent Transportation Network) service was a branch of a national organization, according to Patricia Stachowicz, a MyRide driver who also drove for ITNRacine County and served on its volunteer board. And eventually, as ITN board members moved away or simply moved on, it became difficult to find enough volunteers to keep the organization going, Stachowicz explained.
The need for flexible, efficient and affordable transportation for seniors, though, remained. Patterned after a Dane County program which serves more than 700 riders, MyRide works to meet that need, with a corps of volunteer drivers, coordinated by Chap. They currently have 10 drivers, and need about 20, Chap said.
MyRide services are provided to Racine County residents ages 55 and older who don’t drive. Services are provided free of charge thanks to grant money issued to the program from sources including Racine County, Kiwanis of West Racine, SC Johnson, the Buhler Foundation, Retirement Research Foundation and Bader Philanthropies Inc., as well as funding from United Way of Racine County, according to Al Volmut, executive director of the VCRC.
Riders can make donations to the program, if they are able and choose to do so. But unlike Racine’s former ITN program, there is no membership fee involved. Already, MyRide has received more than $400 in donations from riders who are “just so happy” to have a ride service available again, Volmut said.
Among the program’s grateful riders is Mozol, who said she appreciates the company of the drivers as much as she does the service. She and Stachowicz bonded over their shared sense of humor while both were involved in ITNRacine County and are glad to be able to continue their friendship through MyRide.
“We just got along — boom! — like that,” Mozol said.
“The drivers are like family to me,” she said. “We are pretty lucky to have this service."
It isn’t just the riders who feel that way. Stachowicz said that driving for the program gives her personal satisfaction.
“It gets me out in the community and gives me purpose,” she said. “I’ve made friends and gone places I might never have gone, otherwise.”
Desire to help
She heartily recommends the volunteer job to others, noting that it is not difficult, and very enjoyable. It also doesn’t have to be a huge commitment, Stachowicz said.
“I don’t care if you can only drive on Monday mornings, or Thursday afternoons — we need you,” she said.
MyRide drivers are trained for their job, and Chap conducts background and driving record checks on each. The only other qualification really needed, Stachowicz said, is a desire to help.
Sure, those drivers who are 55 and older are eligible to be reimbursed for their mileage, if they join the VCRC’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program, she said. But that’s not what being involved in MyRide is really about.
“It’s about getting out and getting people to where they need to go,” Stachowicz said.
And it doesn’t always need to be somewhere someone needs to go, rather than wants to go, Chap said. MyRide will take people to the gym, the movie theater — even destinations outside of Racine County, as long as the rider lives in Racine County. The service operates on weekdays (no weekends), mostly between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“We won’t take you to the casino or the bar, but we do take people to social engagements,” she said.
There are also times when exceptions to MyRide’s general service guidelines can be made, depending on an individual’s situation, Chap said.
If someone is legally blind, but younger than 55, for example, an exception may be made, she said. Or, while MyRide asks for at least 48 hours’ notice for a ride, if a rider has broken a tooth and needs to get to a dentist before then, Chap said she would see what she could do to find a driver that could be available on short notice.
“I would see what I can do for those kinds of emergency situations,” she said. “We try to do whatever needs to be done in order to accommodate people.”
For more about MyRide, call 262-417-7544 or go to www.volunteerracine.org.