How a suburban ride sharing service is helping seniors retain their independence
Judy Schreiber of Schaumburg had no idea when she signed up for a ride to the doctor's office last week with Escorted Transportation Service that it would be a milestone.
Turns out that when volunteer driver Jill Bergner of Mount Prospect showed up, it was the 30,000th ride provided by the grass-roots agency based in Arlington Heights.
With its nearly 100 drivers using their own cars to give rides to seniors heading to medical appointments, it was ride sharing long before Uber and Lyft came along.
"This is a wonderful milestone for our community organization," says Dallas Ann Tomlin, executive director.
The agency dates back to 2006 when two women, Kathy Kasprowicz of Arlington Heights and Marie Payes of Rolling Meadows, started mapping out the idea with a group of interested supporters.
Among them were Carol Anderson and Beth Drost, both gerontologists and staff members at Lutheran Home Services in Arlington Heights.
"We started out at my kitchen table," says Anderson, of Inverness. "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."
Schreiber, a resident of Friendship Village retirement community, says she has been using the service for the last few years after she stopped driving herself. Although some of her children live in the area, she likes the sense of independence it gives her to arrange her own rides.
"The drivers are such good company," Schreiber says. "They have such interesting backgrounds and are always fun to talk to."
As part of the service, the driver takes the passenger to their appointment, waits until they are done and then takes them home.
"Every time I use the service, I say a little prayer of thanksgiving," Schreiber says.
She and Bergner have traveled together before and they enjoy each other's company. Both lived in Mount Prospect for years, where they raised their large families.
Like most of the other drivers, Bergner started with ETS when she retired. She noticed an advertisement in her church bulletin, she says, and working to help older people get to their medical appointments just resonated with her.
"I had worked in cardiac rehab and our population was generally older folks," Bergner says. "Plus, when my mother was aging and ill and needed rides to the doctor, I wasn't always available.
"She lived in Evanston and I was in Mount Prospect, so sometimes she had to take a cab," she adds. "Now I do it for other people's moms and dads."
Tomlin says the need continues to grow.
"According to the census, the number of seniors over 85 will triple by 2040," she says. "In 2018, we added 126 new passengers alone to our roster of more than 500 passengers, however the number of drivers stayed relatively the same."
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.
Tomlin says the average age of passengers is 85, and they must be able to get in and out of a car independently. Drivers take them to checkups, eye and dentist appointments, as well as for blood work, physical therapy and specialist appointments. They do not cover anything that involves anesthesia or chemotherapy.
The organization's coverage area spans 160 square miles, including Alexian Brothers in Elk Grove Village, Lutheran General in Park Ridge, Northwest Community in Arlington Heights and St. Alexius in Hoffman Estates.
Clients are asked to make a $12 donation for their ride -- and book it at least one week in advance.
It all continues to work, but what they really need are more drivers.
"Volunteering for ETS is completely flexible and does not require a weekly commitment," Tomlin says. "Our online ride scheduling program allows the volunteer to pick rides that work for their schedule.
"We have people that drive multiple times a week and others that drive once or twice a month," she adds. "We appreciate any and all time that a volunteer can devote to assisting a senior in our community."
Find out more about the organization and how to help at etsnw.org.