Norma Dunagan knows many local senior citizens rely on Senior Wheels to get to doctor and grocery store visits, yet there aren’t enough volunteers in the community to help.
Dunagan, who uses the car service program about twice a week, said the two volunteers now are great, but they need more drivers.
“I wish they had more. All the driving on them two -- [they] are getting more clients all the time, so that really runs them around there,” she said.
When the Eudora branch of Senior Wheels opened in December 2019, those at the Senior Resource Center weren’t sure what the demand would look like from local seniors.
However, the program went on to provide 373 rides in 2020, resulting in over 4,700 miles driven that year.
“We have just been thrilled because the demand was so much more than we expected, and that just validated the need and validated it’s something the Eudora community needs and wants,” Senior Resource Center Executive Director Megan Poindexter said.
While the senior center is pleased with these numbers, they only have two recurring drivers to meet the ever-increasing need: Gary Scott and Mary Ann Watts.
“Mary Ann and Gary have been the driving force behind this program for going on two years, and they would love to have more members of their team to help make sure that it’s long-term sustainable,” Poindexter said.
Scott first became involved with the program after working with the Parks and Rec Department for about eight years, in which they noticed a need for transportation.
“The Senior Wheels program was just something I thought, ‘Well hey, I’d like to make sure that I do my part in helping get this really going in our community,’” he said.
Scott has been driving Eudora Senior Wheels since it was first made available in 2019. As the need for drivers becomes more apparent, he said they may run into issues should he and Watts not be available to drive certain days.
“What would happen is, there’s individuals that would not be able to get to their doctor’s appointments,” he said. “They would not be able to get the health care they need.”
Senior Wheels typically drives locals to and from essential places around Douglas County. Even if someone can only contribute one morning every couple weeks, they are still encouraged to volunteer, Scott said.
“I’ve had people that we’ve picked up say to me, ‘Boy, if we didn’t have this service, I don’t know what I’d do,’” he said.
The level of appreciation among the seniors who use the program is apparent, Watts said.
“I have one guy -- every time he gets in the van, he [says], ‘Boy, you’re a good driver,’ and they compliment you on it, and they’re so appreciative, always saying ‘thank you,’” she said. “They’re happy to see you, too.”
In order to continue the success of the program and ensure all driving times are covered for the community, Watts wants those with schedules that permit to consider volunteering.
“We need volunteers to keep the program going because there will be a time that we’re not going to be able to do it all the time,” she said.
Volunteering gives people the opportunity to connect with the community and get to know people who use Senior Wheels, she said.
“It feels good to be able help somebody else out,” she said.
Volunteers should be 18+ with a clean driving record and be a friendly person who enjoys working with seniors. In case senior riders need help going to and from the vehicle, volunteers should also be physically capable of aiding in the transportation of riders and their belongings.
“This program is driven -- literally, metaphorically -- driven by volunteers to drive that vehicle that’s dedicated for the Eudora community,” Poindexter said.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Heidi Briery, director of transportation services, by phone at (785)-727-7877 or by email at hbriery@YourSRC.org.
Seniors wanting to schedule a ride with Senior Wheels can do so via phone at (785)-727-7876.
Reach reporter Emily Binkley at email@example.com.
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