Senior transportation program provides a lift, companionship
Long before Uber and Lyft came along, and the term "ride sharing" became popular, an Arlington Heights-based agency was doing just that.
Their target market? Seniors who needed rides to doctors' appointments and other medical destinations.
Getting aroundWhat: Escorted Transportation Service Northwest
Where: 1801 W. Central Road, Arlington Heights
Cost: $12 suggested donation per trip
Details: (847) 222-9227 or www.https://etsnw.org
And they didn't even need an app to get the word out.
Called Escorted Transportation Services Northwest, the grass-roots agency -- housed in an office at the Arlington Heights Senior Center -- has provided nearly 24,000 rides for seniors to their doctors' visits since its beginnings in 2006.
Members of its board were recognized at an Arlington Heights village board meeting earlier this month, with a special proclamation honoring their 10 years of providing rides -- and companionship -- to seniors.
"Here's a grass-roots organization that saw a need and drafted an army of volunteers to address that need," says Mayor Tom Hayes. "We can't thank them enough for the service they provide to our seniors."
The organization's concept has worked so well, that it has become a prototype for similar networks in Hanover Township, the Barrington area and Naperville.
Two women, Kathy Kasprowicz and Marie Payes of Rolling Meadows, started mapping out the organization with a group of interested supporters at a meeting at Kasprowicz's home in Arlington Heights.
"We started out at my kitchen table," says Kasprowicz, a registered nurse. "I like to tell people that we moved the second meeting to my dining room table once we knew we were going to move forward."
Carol Anderson of Arlington Heights was one of the group's early supporters. She and Beth Drost -- both former Lutheran Home Services staffers -- helped find board members for the organization.
"We have been honored locally and nationally, but the most appreciated praise is from our passengers -- and their adult children who don't need to take a vacation day because one of their parents has a medical or dental appointment," Anderson says.
The organization draws its volunteers from a database of 80 drivers, whose coverage area spans 160 square miles, enough to take seniors to many of the region's major medical centers, including Alexian Brothers in Elk Grove Village, Lutheran General in Park Ridge, Northwest Community in Arlington Heights and St. Alexius in Hoffman Estates.
"We don't want to duplicate what township buses provide," says Kasprowicz. "Our clients are slightly more frail and may have difficulty negotiating where to go at busy hospitals for their medical tests."
The volunteer drivers, she says, not only escort clients to their appointments, but they wait with them and return them home safely.
"It's so much more than a ride," Kasprowicz adds. "Our drivers really care about the people they drive."
She says that the average age of passengers is 84 and that the two most common destinations are the eye doctor and dialysis appointments. Clients are asked to make a $12 donation for their ride -- and book it at least one week in advance.
Passengers come from Arlington Heights, Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Wheeling.
Their drivers come from nearly as expansive an area. Some drive once a week, others two to three times a week, while others are on call. Most have volunteered for an average of six years. Of course, the service is always looking for more drivers.
A group of 13 drivers have been with the agency all 10 years. They include: Angie Balcerak, Ron Boe, Phil DeBoer, Sharon Faciana, Jeff Fleig, Ron Hanschman, Jim McGrath, Helen Minogue, Judy O'Malley, Joe Ruane and Sully Sullivan, all of Arlington Heights; Joyce Polk of Palatine; and Jim Walkowiak of Mount Prospect.