At 67 years old, Mary Cunningham didn’t expect to have to give up driving, but health circumstances forced her to retire her keys. Nervous about the burden of finding a ride to daily medical appointments, Mary discovered ITNGreaterBoston, a service that matches volunteer drivers with older adults in their community who are unable or no longer want to drive.
Mary takes the service every day from her home in Watertown to treatments at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. Mary is grateful for the volunteer drivers who help escort her down the stairs from her house to their car and transport her walker as well.
According to volunteer driver Jay Ball of Natick, this door-through-door, arm-through-arm service sets ITNGreaterBoston apart from other transportation options, like taxis. “It’s not just about transporting someone from point A to point B,” he said. “It’s about making them feel comfortable. A cab driver would never go the extra mile to take passengers in a wheelchair or with a walker into their appointment, help remove their jacket and get them settled. We do that – and it makes a huge difference to the people we’re driving.”
Jay has been volunteering for ITNGreaterBoston for over a year and has since given more than 130 rides covering more than 1,900 miles. At 78, Jay has been retired for 20 years and still has his license. When he first heard of ITN, he thought, “Why shouldn’t I do this?” Jay’s wife of 53 years has been legally blind for several years and therefore he understands first-hand what it means to someone to lose his or her freedom to drive.
Since ITNGreaterBoston launched in January 2012, the service has expanded to 19 communities and has given more than 5,900 rides to more than 300 members across Greater Boston and MetroWest Massachusetts. Members use the service for not only medical appointments but also shopping and other personal needs, recreation, socializing with family and friends, volunteer activities and work.
As Executive Director Jean Patel Bushnell says, “Customized transportation is vital to life quality for older adults. Their health and dignity depend on community connectivity. We understand their needs and offer a service that empowers them to be more independent.”
This story was published originally in the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report and updated in November 2013.