A state grant of $24,300 will allow Ride Partners to expand its popular driving service.

Volunteers go extra mile

August 26, 2005|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

By lending a hand with occasional tasks and errands, Severna Park-based Partners in Care is making it possible for elderly and disabled adults to maintain their independence and remain where they want to be - in their own homes.

The nonprofit organization, which has its headquarters on Ritchie Highway, has more than 1,800 volunteers. Tasks include fixing leaky faucets, climbing ladders, changing light bulbs, doing yardwork and driving to doctors' offices and grocery stores.

Partners in Care was the brainchild of Maureen Cavaiola and Sandy Jackson, who hold master's degrees in gerontology from the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, and Barbara Huston, who holds a master's degree in health care administration from the University of Maryland, University College.

Recently, Ride Partners, a program run by Partners in Care that provides long-distance transportation for Anne Arundel seniors and disabled adults, won a Senior Rides Demonstration Program grant of $24,300 from the state.

The grant will allow the nonprofit to expand Ride Partners to provide transportation beyond the traditional 9-to-5 hours. Last year, more than 120 rides were arranged through the program. Riders pay a fee based on a sliding scale, and drivers receive a small reimbursement for gasoline.

Rides are available for trips within the county totaling 50 miles or more round trip, out-of-county trips totaling more than 25 miles round trip and rides that occur three or more times a week to the same destination - and cannot be accomplished by family members or the Department of Aging van system.

"Our program began with rides to essential services, but life isn't all medical appointments," Huston said of the program, which also involves the Annapolis Department of Transportation and Volunteer Maryland.

Why shouldn't a senior be able to request a ride to, say, Ocean City to visit her condo for the day, she asked, referring to what she calls "other quality-of-life needs."

What started as a "nice little neighborhood" activity, said Huston, has led to situations, for example, in which someone in South County needs a ride to the Wilmer eye clinic in Baltimore or a retired Naval officer in Annapolis requests a ride to Bethesda. These trips force a driver to "block out almost a whole day" for driving, she said.

"Gas has become a huge issue," Huston said. "In the past, Partners in Care reimbursed drivers for gas at 35 cents per mile, but that amount must be increased."

Said co-founder and chairwoman of the board Jackson: "I think it's important to remember even if gas prices are going up, people still need to go. It's hard to pay for private transportation to do that."

Partners in Care was recently awarded two Americorps positions, the nonprofit announced.

One will coordinate the Ride Partners program, while the other will head the High School Service Learning Project, a program that matches students with adults needing assistance with yardwork. The project, in turn, helps students meet their service requirements for graduation.

Another highly requested service is the Handyman Program, in which volunteers assist clients with households tasks.

From its annual operating budget of about $300,000, Partners in Care pays rent on two spaces: the office and the organization's upscale resale boutique. Boutique proceeds provide 25 percent of the center's budget, said Huston. Expenses include utilities, volunteer insurance and program costs of about $140,000.

Friends of Arundel Seniors, a nonprofit organization based at the county's Department of Aging, supplies safety equipment that is installed by volunteers from Partners in Care and Kiwanis clubs throughout the county.

Lloyd Lewis, Friends' acting president, said that the group spends $30,000 to $35,000 annually on items for seniors and the disabled that include elevated toilet seats and frames with arm supports; bathtub grips; bath benches; 6-foot hoses with shower heads; smoke alarms and reflective house numbers.

Glen Burnie resident Ken Dunshee has volunteered as a handyman and a driver for Partners in Care for more than 11 years. "These are good folks," he said, "and I love to meet them."

When he drives someone to a doctor's appointment, Dunshee goes into the doctor's office and waits with his passenger. That way, he said, "I know where they are and when they are finished."

Delores Reuter of Pasadena, who has volunteered with Partners in Care almost since its inception, said the services are "such a wonderful cause.

"My philosophy is that [senior citizens] are underserved in this youth-oriented society. They're so appreciative," said Reuter, who recently lost her 90-year-old mother, Juel Yeasted, whom she called "her best friend."

Reuter said that taking care of her mother made her even more considerate of the elderly: "I take them to the doctor, and they ask if they can pick up their prescriptions," she said. "Then they ask if they can run in and get groceries. I may be the only person they'll see that day, so I am very patient."

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