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Ready for rides

John McCallister drives Evelyn Beckerman to her hair appointment in Orlando, Nov. 24. McCallister volunteers about 30 hours, five days a week, and put 8,000 miles on his car volunteering last year.

John McCallister drives Evelyn Beckerman to her hair appointment in Orlando, Nov. 24. McCallister volunteers about 30 hours, five days a week, and put 8,000 miles on his car volunteering last year.

Brittni Larson

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Seniors all over Central Florida can’t get adequate, affordable transportation. One nonprofit is working to change that.

“A lot of our clients are struggling with unmet needs, and the situation doesn’t ever seem to get better,” said Cathy Edwards, executive vice president of Seniors First, a nonprofit dedicated to serving seniors’ needs.

The problem: money. The cost of the sort of transportation seniors want is something the local government and nonprofit organizations can’t fit into their budgets, Edwards said. So when seniors can no longer drive — because of failing vision, limited mobility, mental deterioration or lack of money — there are very few options.

“The expense of it is just so enormous,” Edwards said of senior transportation programs.

Grassroots organization

But one organization that has a grassroots approach to the problem is the Independent Transportation Network affiliate in Orlando (ITNOrlando). The nonprofit, membership organization provides rides for seniors and adults with visual impairment at a reasonable price, when they want to go, where they want to go, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is an annual fee of $60, rides cost $4 for each pick up and are $1.50 per mile after that. The organization sets itself apart because of the free availability. It’s also different because the drivers are volunteers, using their own cars, and they provide what the organization calls “door-through-door, arm-through-arm” service.

“Seniors should be able to travel with dignity and on their terms,” said Kimber Threet, ITNOrlando’s executive director.

Drivers come to the door to get their riders at their request, help them to the car, open the door and also assist them in bringing in groceries or packages.

“You’re more than a taxi driver — you give rides to seniors in a dignified way,” said John McCallister, 72, who started volunteering for ITNOrlando when he retired last year.

Worry-free transportation

Orlando resident Evelyn Beckerman, 89, has been using the service since the beginning of this year, when she voluntarily gave up her license. She had decided it was safer overall for her to stop driving. Beckerman said transportation is a life necessity for her, and ITNOrlando lifts the driving burden.

“It is very important,” she said. “It just relieves you — you don’t have to worry.”

Beckerman, who uses the rides to go to doctor appointments and to the hair salon, said that safety was the biggest reason she’s thankful for the service. Not only did she worry about her skills, but also walking to her car alone. With ITNOrlando, she always has an escort.

“It’s very safe and secure,” she said.

And while she’s aware of other transportation options, she doesn’t like to use them. She worries about dealing with the bus system, because her balance isn’t good, and she doesn’t want to stand while riding, or deal with the other riders, who might feel she’s in the way or too slow. She said taxis and her senior apartment shuttle are unreliable when it comes to being on time or even showing up. This is an issue seniors deal with daily.

Funding troubles

Seniors First does offer a shuttle to Wal-Mart once a week to two senior apartment buildings in Winter Park, but ITNOrlando is the only service of its kind. The closest program to it are the home health care agencies, but they require users to pay for a block of normally four hours of care, and then the worker will drive the senior where needed. It’s a much more expensive option.

Jan Smith, ITNOrlando’s development coordinator, said that they provide a service that gives seniors independence and freedom, and allows them to get out of the house. This, she said, is a vital part in their health, which deteriorates with growing isolation and less mobility. Edwards said she’s seen this with her own mother.

Even though the issue is a large one, Edwards stressed that without funding, the problem won’t be solved, and there doesn’t seem to be any coming soon. ITNOrlando struggles daily with funding, and while they want to expand, they can’t without money and volunteers.

“Until the community gets behind it, we can’t expand,” Smith said.

Get moving

For more information about ITNOrlando,

visit www.itnorlando.org or call 407-228-7761. The organization serves Winter Park, Maitland, Longwood, Orlando, Altamonte Springs and Casselberry.