Drivers sought to give transport to those in need

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Most people don't put much thought into getting into their car and driving off to wherever they need to go. Not everyone has that opportunity.

"It seems like a simple thing to do," said St. Bridget Deacon Greg Miller. "But to them, it's like giving somebody who lost an arm a brand new arm back."

Miller, in his ministry work, often finds people calling in with no transportation.

"A lot of these folks might be in assisted living, or for whatever reason, they cannot drive and they're looking to go grocery shopping," Miller said. "A lot of it is for dentist appointments. They might have to go see an attorney or maybe travel some other distance to the VA."

Miller said there's a big need for drivers to take people such as those mentioned where they need to go.

The Center for Independent Living for Western Wisconsin, Inc. has been arranging rides from volunteer drivers for people who need rides—particularly elderly and disabled people—for years. This is done through New Freedom Transportation One Call Center.

The nonprofit has recently expanded its 18-county reach to 29 counties, according to Transportation Coordinator Bobbi Hegna. She said that makes up 49.5 percent of the state.

Since the program began in 2008, it's given about 430,000 rides.

Hegna said there are about five drivers for St. Croix County. St Croix has had about 1,300 rides in the last quarter of the year.

From January through June, 363 rides were given in Pierce County, 1,968 rides in St. Croix County, 1782 in Dunn County, 176 in Polk County, and 19 in Pepin County, Hegna said.

There are less than 10 drivers between Pierce, Pepin, Dunn, and St. Croix counties.

So, there's definitely a need for drivers, she said.

The Center for Independent Living's program fills in gaps for people who don't qualify for county or other government transportation programs.

Hegna said the organization gives out rides for medical, educational, employment-related, and social events. She said New Freedom also offers rides to safe homes for people dealing with a mental health crisis, who have been seen by medical professionals and deemed not a danger to themselves or others.

Volunteer drivers must be over 18, hold a valid driver's license with a good driving record, have proof of liability insurance, and a clean background check.

Once cleared, drivers receive an orientation/training and are added to the schedule.

John Maule was a volunteer driver from February until recently, when he had to stop due to health problems at home. He said the experience was well worth it ,and he'd recommend it to anyone who is considering it.

"It's a ministry," said Maule, "But it's also a privilege."

Maule transported a client to receive medical care and said he made some good friends; he was inspired by the determination of people he saw, who were trying to get well.

Drivers don't just take riders from point A to point B, Hegna said. She said they also look out for the welfare of their riders, and often stay close with the riders and their families.

Drivers are reimbursed for gas mileage.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Hegna at 800-228-3287 or cilww@cilww.com.