Driver of the Year does more than provide transportation

March 08, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Donnie Saxon, a burly van driver for the Long Reach-based Urban Rural Transportation Alliance, still finds it amusing that a group of elderly women he transports actually threw him a baby shower two years ago before the birth of his daughter, Kristina.

"I think they all appreciate any little thing we do," Mr. Saxon said of his Howard County riders, including seniors, people with disabilities and low-income residents who depend on the URTA driver to get to senior citizen meal and activities centers, medical and social services appointments, jobs and other essential destinations.

Janet L. McGlynn, URTA executive director, said the baby shower at the Emory United Methodist Church senior center in Ellicott City, replete with a parasol-covered arm chair and hanging crepe paper, showed "how much [the seniors] loved him."

Supported by senior center directors and participants, who wrote letters on his behalf, and by his 24 fellow URTA drivers, who nominated him, Mr. Saxon recently won the Transportation Association of Maryland's 1993 Driver of the Year award.

"I felt honored, really," said Mr. Saxon, 36, a Baltimore resident. "The important part to me is providing the service we do for Howard County residents. If you don't have a car, transportation out here is very scarce. A lot of them say they're really glad URTA is running."

Mr. Saxon wasn't the only URTA worker to be honored by the professional association, which provides education and training for transportation workers and selects award-winners from among Maryland's 20-plus nonprofit and government-affiliated para-transit systems.

Sidney Freifeld, a volunteer who turns 82 tomorrow, won the association's Unsung Hero award by helping URTA save money and receive reimbursements more promptly through his computer record-keeping.

"I feel a little proud," said Mr. Freifeld, who lives at Harmony Hall in Columbia. "I feel happy I can still be productive and that my work is being recognized. The greatest satisfaction is doing something that's apparently necessary."

Harriet Watkins, site manager at Hebron House senior center in Ellicott City, said Mr. Saxon is polite, friendly and outgoing.

"He lights up the room. He has the type of personality needed for driving seniors," she said. "A lot of seniors in my group have special needs. He's great with them. He walks them on and off the bus and to the site and makes sure they get back in their houses."

Mr. Saxon, an URTA driver for five years, works from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., driving 200 miles or more perday, and holds down a night job with a cleaning company. He shuttles people enrolled with Ellicott Enterprises, an employment workshop affiliated with Association of Retarded Citizens-Howard County, between their homes, the workshop and a job site at Fort Meade.

Mr. Saxon said his riders enjoy hearing him sing along with whatever's playing on the radio.

"I love driving," he said. "I love talking with the senior citizens. You can learn a lot from the elders."

Robert Brooks, URTA operations manager, said Mr. Saxon goes out of his way to be helpful, often offering to pick up an unscheduled ride in response to a dispatcher's request over URTA's two-way radio.

Mr. Freifeld, who works 2 1/2 hours a day Monday through Friday, keeps track of all URTA runs, compiling a data base of rides, miles, cancellations and no-shows and riders by categories. Mr. Freifeld's work speeds up the billing process, said Ms. McGlynn.

"I never go back and check Sidney's work. It's always right," Ms. McGlynn said. "He has that sense of meticulousness and an understanding of how important this type of thing is. You can't manage without good information."

Mr. Freifeld, a New York City native who retired in 1980 from a career as a wholesaler, buyer and manager in the grocery business, also has a "real sense for saving money," Ms. McGlynn said. For example, he has detected receipts mistakenly charging URTA for purchasing premium gas rather than regular, she said.

URTA is looking for additional volunteers. Information: (410) 997-7588.

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