Saturday December 8, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Seniors providing other seniors a lift to and from their doctors' appointments is the gist of a new volunteer medical transportation program in Cambridge. But as organizers and volunteer drivers attested Friday, the program's merits go beyond just providing a free ride.

Kim Bren, program director of the RSVP of Warren & Washington Counties, said lasting friendships had been made between volunteering drivers and seniors taking advantage of similar services in Greenwich and Salem. The expansion to Cambridge was aided by a $15,000 grant from the Mary McClellan Foundation to get the program up and running. The foundation, created in 1987, was revived to support the healthcare needs of the community once served by Mary McClellan Hospital after the hospital closed in 2003.

Linda Record, the program's local dispatcher, said the foundation support had "lit the spark" to the long-planned service. The grant provided for a prepaid cellphone and computer tablet for Record to receive and schedule rides, with that information uploaded to Google Docs where it is shared with Bren at RSVP. The grant will also fund recruitment for new drivers and mileage reimbursement for future trips.

"The greatest thing people benefit from (through the transport service) is the companionship on the ride, because we could pay for a taxi ride," said local state Assemblyman Tony Jordan, commending the program. "(But) I don't think we'd get 90 percent of the benefit."

Some two-dozen people attended a Friday morning ribbon-cutting at the First Baptist Church, the local sponsoring organization. Using retired and senior volunteers through RSVP, the medical transport program is organized under Tri-County United Way, which also has transport partnerships in Greenwich and Salem.

To qualify, interested riders must be 55 or older or be disabled. Because drivers use their own personal vehicles, participants must be mobile and not limited to a wheelchair.

One local volunteer, Harold McKinney of Argyle, said the RSVP program offered over 100 stations or outlets, including the ride program. "I know how important it is to get our seniors to their medical appointments," said McKinney. "The great thing about RSVP is we get to do what we want to do when we do it." As of Oct. 2, the local RSVP tallied 27,419 volunteer hours given over the past 12 months; equating to $751,010 in donated time to the community.

A representative from state Sen. Betty Little's office said community involvement was key. Currently, about 10 individuals have signed up to offer rides in Cambridge, but more are always welcomed.

Valerie Reagan, a village resident and trustee filling out the necessary paperwork to drive Friday, said she was volunteering because there was such a need. "My husband and I used to (ommute) to Albany," said Reagan. But "some people never get to Albany -- it's like another world."

Jordan said local residents didn't need to be reminded to volunteer. Attesting to the amount of work it took to get the program started, "this is vintage Washington County," he said.

To contact Record to setup a ride or for more information, call (518) 300-0930 or email rsvpcambridge@gmail.com.