City receives STAR award

OCEANSIDE — The Solutions for Seniors on the Go transportation program received national recognition and $5,000 through the STAR Award for Excellence. 

The transportation program provides reduced cost taxi script, van transportation, and door-to-door car pickup services for Oceanside seniors age 65 and older who can no longer drive.

Services started with the taxi script program and expanded to van and car pickup services.

Seniors can buy taxi script at $7 for $20 worth of taxi fare, or arrange shuttle service, provided by American Logistics, in advance at $5 a ride. A third option is to request a volunteer driver at no charge.

“They can choose which option works best for them,” Janet Grate, city program specialist, said.

The awarded $5,000 will go towards mileage payments for volunteer drivers.

The door-to-door car pickup service is requested by phone, then drivers are scheduled online by the city and reimbursed at 56 cents a mile.

Drivers check in and confirm pickups that match their availability. Priority is given to seniors with medical appointments.

Door-to-door pickup service is also provided to seniors for shopping trips and other errands.

Volunteer driver Jim Shea, 70, has been picking up senior passengers since April 2012.

He puts in 20 hours a week and logs 700 to 900 miles a month for the program. Shea said most of the requests are 20- to 30-mile trips to local hospitals.

He added he has a regular Tuesday rider he takes to doctor appointments or the market.

“A lot of other people give two, three, four rides a month,” Shea said. “I usually go Monday through Friday.”

Shea said he fits volunteer driving into his schedule when he is not working as a volunteer usher or attending weekly Bible study.

If appointments or excursions run long, Shea drops off a senior and another volunteer driver picks them up.

“It gets me out, I meet people, it keeps me busy and active,” Shea said. “I’m retired now. I’d be sitting at home reading a book.”

Shea said the service gets seniors to their destination and provides them with the driver’s company during the ride.

“I can be the only person they talk to that day,” he said.

Most seniors who request car pickup service are age 85 and older and need extra help getting in and out of vehicles.

Many of the seniors served are homebound.

“The volunteer drivers are my favorite part of the program and the most satisfying,” Grate said. “They provide one-on-one contact that develops into friendships. They offer more than transportation. It’s a really rewarding part of program. The seniors are so thankful.”

Solutions for Seniors on the Go serves 1,200 seniors and provides 800 rides a month. The program operates on a year-to-year basis and is currently funded through June 30, 2014.

“We’re always looking for volunteer drivers,” Grate said. “The need is tremendous and continues to grow.”

Beverly Foundation and Ride Connection, Inc. sponsored the STAR Award. Programs were awarded for best practices verified by studies and survey data that showed those programs improved transportation for seniors and veterans.

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