Volunteer Drivers Connect Local Seniors Back to Their Community

by | Apr 2024

FOR MANY aging adults, losing the ability to drive means becoming isolated from friends and community. It can be challenging to get out of the house regularly when you have to arrange for rides each time or wait for out-of-town family to visit. This issue was identified by Community Life Bridge, and in 2019, thenonprofit set out to fix it in Hendersonville, Gallatin, and all of Sumner County.

Community Life Bridge is a local nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life of mature adults in the community. When the organization was formed in 2014, the board researched what unmet needs existed in the Hendersonville community. The director of programs, Christine Martin, said one of those needs was affordable and accessible rides, so the Community Life Ride program was launched in 2019.

“They were looking for needs as far as affordable and accessible — not just having a resource, but having one that our mature adults truly can access,” Martin said. “We started in Hendersonville — one part of the county. Since then, we’ve grown to four other parts of the county, and we have about 100 riders.”

Unlike most transportation programs, riders in Community Life Ride get a one-on-one ride to any location in Sumner County. It could be a doctor’s appointment, grocery run, nail appointment, or meeting friends. With three levels of care, riders can choose whether or not their driver remains with them throughout their trip.

“They don’t just drop you off,” Martin said. “That allows… that relationship, and that trust, and that reliability within the program.”

Anyone over 60 can get involved as a rider, with a membership fee of $25 a year plus $6 per ride. For many, the ride is the least they get from the program. Betty Callis, who has been with the program since 2019, said she has become friends with many people who have driven her.

“When you get in their car, it’s like you’re going with one of your best friends,” Callis said. “I kind of think they feel like that, too, because we laugh and cut up.”

Those friends have invited her to church, plays, and events — rides that aren’t scheduled but offered. Community Life Ride occasionally organizes events for the riders to meet each other.

“They become your friends, and I really appreciate that cause I love people,” Callis said. “It’s just saving my life, and I thank God for them every day.”

In 2023, Community Life Ride gave, on average, 71 rides per week, making nearly 3,700 in the year. While the program staff filled in gaps as needed, 97 % of those rides were given by volunteers. Anyone can be a driver, as long as they are older than 21 and they all use their own vehicles. While the program requests that each driver give at least two rides a month, Martin said they can choose those rides that fit into their schedule.

“Our average volunteer is probably early retirees, but we have stay-at-home moms, those who work other jobs, flexible-type jobs, all kinds of different demographics,” Martin said.

As a driver, Debbie Wilmore said volunteering was an encouragement and a joy. She has been with the program since it began in 2019 and has become friends with many of those she has driven.

“I always feel like I get more from them than I give them,” Wilmore said. “It’s not just providing a ride to a destination. We do become good friends, check up on each other occasionally, and just enjoy each other’s company.”

Wilmore joined the program because she enjoyed being around people, which was an excellent way to serve her community.

“We can be a lot of things, but everybody can be kind, and it’s just a way of giving back,” Wilmore said. “Because there’ll come a day not too far in the future that I may be a rider and no longer a driver.”

Community Life Ride has about 65 regular drivers but a waiting list for riders. As the program gains more volunteers, it will be able to serve more of the community.

“We definitely have a continuous flow of interest in being a rider in our program, but the volunteer aspect is where we have the opportunity to just continue to grow and grow and grow,” Martin said. “We will probably never not need volunteers.” GN 

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