Friday, February 5, 2016

Getting There Together

Here's our latest client profile/call for volunteers in the Renton area:

Getting There Together- One Mile at a Time

By Celeste Endlich
Rides from Volunteer Transportation provide a
 crucial lifeline for Yim.

Longtime Renton resident Yim Wong relies Volunteer Transportation to get to her medical appointments. After undergoing a recent major surgery and dealing with multiple health challenges, rides to the doctor are crucial for Yim. Volunteer Transportation, a service for seniors provided by Sound Generations (Senior Services’ new name), utilizes volunteers to drive seniors like Yim to and from their medical appointments. Yim greatly appreciates the wonderful volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles to make a meaningful impact in their communities, one mile at a time.

Transportation was a huge burden in Yim’s life. While she has family in the area, her daughter Cindy is a full time mother to young children and does not have access to a car during the day to take her mother to the doctor. Therefore, Yim previously had to take a taxi to her appointments and that cost at least $55 one way, eating up around $110 of her limited income on transportation to one medical appointment. This consumed her finances as she sometimes had multiple appointments a week. If there was a bad traffic jam, this could sky rocket to $90 each way which was on top of her existing medical expenses. “If you’re a senior, if you're retired, how do you afford that?” she questions.

In addition to alleviating financial stress, Volunteer Transportation also provided Yim with a social and personalized experience. Since registering for the program in June, the service has had a great impact on her life. Her daughter Cindy emphasized the importance it has for her mother, “The program helps a lot; it takes her to and from her appointments conveniently. And it's helpful if you really do need a ride.”

Not only does the program benefit the clients receiving rides, but it also benefits the volunteers, as it is a fulfilling way to give back and support the community. Volunteer drivers often report that they get back as much as they give to the program. The program boasts many 20, 25, and even 30 year volunteer drivers, emphasizing the positive experience on both sides.

Unfortunately, there are not enough drivers to respond to the current demands for this service, especially in the Renton area. Seniors like Yim are sometimes turned away because there are simply not enough drivers to keep up with the community need. In the Renton area the program is only able to give about 80% of the rides requested, meaning more seniors are not making it to the life sustaining appointments they need.

More Volunteer drivers are needed to lighten the load for local seniors. To learn more about volunteering with Volunteer Transportation, please contact Hilary Case the Volunteer Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator. She can be reached at 206.748.7588 or Help us go the extra mile to support our Renton seniors.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Small World Story: Friends of Friends

You never know who you'll meet on a ride!
We say it time and time again: Volunteer Transportation car rides are the perfect setting to discover unexpected ties to people with whom you wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths.  We received this account from volunteer driver Audrey R. after she took client James S. to an appointment earlier this week:

“My rider today went to high school with my college roommate and dear friend in a tiny town in Northern Wisconsin.  Interesting how conversations get around to connections!”

Who knew that Northern Wisconsin networks would be extended to the Pacific Northwest through volunteer driving?!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Volunteer Transportation Client Profile: Lavonne Raven

Still Swinging
Lavonne never likes to sit for too long.

92-year-old Lavonne Raven has never been a homebody.  “I’m just not a person who sits around the house!” she says.   Her younger days were busy with raising a family and running a small business, and she discovered a strong passion for golf in her senior years.   The sport was a huge part of her life.  When she wasn’t on a golf course or traveling with her golfing group, she could be found playing cards, running errands, shopping or attending events in her local community.   She was always on the run.

That all changed when Lavonne was in a car accident in 2013.   Her car was totaled, and her family decided to take away her keys for good.  She no longer had the freedom to come and go as she pleased.

Lavonne is a perpetually positive person, but it was hard to see the bright side of this life development.  “I lost my independence,” she explains.

As she adjusted to her new home-based routine, Lavonne discovered the Volunteer Transportation program.   She felt very relieved to learn that the program’s volunteer drivers could take her to see her oncologist, urologist, chiropractor, physical therapist, audiologist and eye doctor.  She was in good health for her age, but her calendar was full of recurring appointments.  She wouldn’t have to miss out on her important medical care.

Over two years later, Lavonne continues to use Volunteer Transportation several times per month.  She is very interesting in her own right, but she reports that one of her favorite things is learning about her volunteer drivers.    “I love hearing about their lives!  It’s like a day out for me.   The drivers are all marvelous, and they all have such neat experiences to share,” she exclaims.  She lists one volunteer driver who spends a lot of time on his large boat, another who is an avid cyclist and another who has gone on extensive motorcycling trips.  She is able to live vicariously through their adventures.

Lavonne’s life may have changed since the loss of her car, but Volunteer Transportation allows her to hold on to her treasured independence.  She says, “I truly do not know what I’d do without the program.  It is just so wonderful.”

Volunteer Transportation helps Lavonne remain active, and she happily reports that she is still able to golf a full 18 holes.  She isn’t able to hit the ball quite as far as she used to, and she doesn’t make it to the golf course as frequently as she’d like, but she still has an accurate swing.

Volunteer drivers ensure that Lavonne can maintain the good health and high spirits she needs to keep both on the go and on the green.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Volunteer Driver Heroism

Pat, a volunteer driver for over three years, took 93-year-old Beulah to a standard medical appointment earlier this month.  After the appointment ended, Pat realized that Beulah did not seem like her normal self; something was just not quite right.  She trusted her intuition and took Beulah to the emergency room.  Pat kindly spent the day with her as they discovered the root of her illness and treated her for a serious health condition.  Beulah writes, “My eternal gratitude for Pat’s consideration.  She saved my life that day.”

Thus, our volunteer drivers are lifesavers.  Literally.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Story Time

Monique Ming Laven, KIRO 7 reporter and VolunteerTransportation driver, recently initiated a #SeattleAntifreeze campaign, an effort to challenge Seattleites’ reputation for being chilly (AKA: the “Seattle Freeze”).  Motivated by the proactive and compassionate response of many Seattleites after the Aurora Bridge crash, she was determined to show the world that Seattleites are warm, caring, and dedicated to helping one another.  They are far from frigid.

Monique has drawn from many of her volunteer driving experiences for her #SeattleAntifreeze reflections.  Like all Volunteer Transportation drivers, she knows that each client has a story to tell.  She writes poignantly to tell the unique stories of the many seniors she has met while giving them rides to their doctors.  Her narratives capture the personal connections of our program, so we’d like to share some of them with you today.  Sit back, grab a cup of coffee/tea, and enjoy some Volunteer Transportation-provided #SeattleAntifreeze!

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 31: Decisions

It's not often that a divorce story makes you smile.

It's also not often you meet someone like Yoko.

I was lucky enough to drive her to her doctor today, and in the few miles we covered, I learned a bit about the many miles she's traveled.

She told me how she obeyed all her husband's decisions for more than 50 years. Those decisions moved them around the U.S., Japan, Scotland ... and she made a home wherever he laid down their hat.

She didn't give many more details about perhaps being mistreated - or definitely being taken for granted. But she did tell me that six years ago, he ordered her to pick up stakes and move again. She told me she finally refused to "be under his thumb." She wouldn't leave her life in Seattle. It was home. And so, at the age of 82, she got a divorce.

When he needed assistance a few years later, she was right there, helping move him into an assisted living facility. Their divorce was not about giving up on a marriage. It was about not giving up on life. Now she lives it on her own terms. She is making her own decisions.

Being a single senior without children is no walk in the park. "I'm getting older every day," she said with a laugh as she slowly got out of my car.

She shoved some cash in my hand. I protested and told her I am a volunteer for King County Senior Services. I didn't want her money.

But her 93 lb. body has a steel spine, and she would not take it back.

Our compromise: I would pass it along to someone else who could use it.

88-year-old Yoko may have to accept some help, but she's not too old to give some herself. It's her decision.

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 30: New Day

His Ukrainian accent is strong, but his meaning was unmistakable: He is a man who honors his vows.

I learned a little about the strength and endurance of Mr. Fedorowicz's loyalty today. It was the second time I picked him up while driving for King County Senior Services. The first was several weeks ago. I thought I took him to a medical appointment. But as we headed in that same direction today, I said I hoped this time the doctor would be able to help him.

"I am not going to doctor," he said.

He sensed I was confused as I double-checked the address.

"I am going to see my wife," he clarified. Then he told me we were headed for her nursing facility. He visits every day.

"I feed her lunch," he said as he demonstrated how he holds the spoon. It was a quick, simple gesture, but I couldn't help but notice his gnarled fingers, some of them partially missing. Perhaps lost during his time as a child in a World War II labor camp -- maybe from other difficult experiences in his long life. Now they're dedicated to performing this simple but profound service.

I asked how his wife is doing and about their hopes or plans for the new year.

He smiled, and put his hand on my arm. "She is 94. We live day by day. Every time I come, I do not know what will happen. But she still knows me. That is good."

He smiled again and then headed inside, as he did yesterday, and as he will do tomorrow.

No need for Mr. Fedorowicz to look ahead to 2016.

He is simply wishing for a Happy New Day.

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 27: The Frail Mask

Mr. Fedorowicz was born in Ukraine, but he didn't spend his childhood there. He didn't have much of a childhood at all. He was a child of war.

Ukraine has a complicated WWII history. Russia invaded, which threw some Ukrainian soldiers on the side of Germany. Others fought both the Red Army and the Nazis. For most, it wasn't about politics, it was about survival.

So it was for Mr. Fedorowicz. As a little boy, he was forced to work in labor camps. He was no child; he was a mule. But he survived. 

Eventually he found his way to Rhode Island, then here to Seattle. And today, into my car.
I gave him a ride to his doctor's appointment, and in those few minutes, this lovely 80-something year-old man was kind enough to share some of his life with me. As he got out, he struggled a bit to properly plant his cane on the sidewalk. 

He didn't have any issues with his balance. He was just preoccupied, explaining to me how thankful he was that a stranger helped him get to the doctor.

I was glad he didn't see me get a little teary-eyed. Instead, he kept talking. "I'll tell you a secret," he said, as I leaned in. "Getting old sucks!" 

We shared a laugh as he shuffled toward his doctor's office. And I was reminded again that frailty often masks the most incredible strength.

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 13: The Perfect Point of View

How does Eileen stay so healthy and energetic? "I never got married," she tells me with a glimmer in her eye and a smile, "but I sure have dated a lot!"

Today I got to be Eileen's date on the way to her doctor's office. She told me all about the benefits of holistic medicine, yoga, and a positive attitude. I'd only driven her once before -- and that was countless months ago. Still, when she saw me, she gave me a big, fat smile, and an even bigger hug.

Then during our trip through downtown Seattle, she filled me in on how much weight a construction crane can bear; how big the cab of a crane is; how long it takes for the average worker to climb up to the cab. 

How does she know all this? There's a phase of construction going on right outside her window that'll last for a couple weeks. Each day the crew fires up at FIVE IN THE MORNING. Ugh.
The construction company came to her building to address residents' concerns. No doubt they were prepared for complaints and abuse. 

Instead, Eileen met them with curiosity and encouragement.

"But, Eileen," I said, "doesn't the noise and dust drive you nuts?!"

"Well, it's not their fault. And besides, I like looking out my window and seeing things being built," she said. Then with another smile and glimmer, she pointed at herself, "For years I've had a front row view of things falling apart."

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 12: My Spoonful of Sugar

Nothing turns me into a witch out of hell like getting stuck in traffic. Except when my car *dies* in traffic.

A few weeks ago, I was driving for King County Senior Services, and I was headed to give a ride home to a man named Mr. Finley. We'd never met. I just knew he was finishing up a round of chemotherapy. Not an easy morning for him.

I was scooting along to Virginia Mason, when all of a sudden I saw lights and sirens.
An SPD patrol car pulled into the intersection right in front of me. Then it parked. In the middle of the street. 

China's President Xi was in town, and the streets were blocked so he could head from downtown to the East Side. I left a message with Mr. Finley's doctor. And we all waited. And waited. And waited.

After almost an hour, the street finally reopened. Yay! I went to turn my car on. No yay. Nothing. Except the people in back of me honking. 

Some drivers finally helped me push my car to the side of the road. I started dialing AAA. Then my phone died. Luckily a wonderful police officer helped me jump my car. But by the time I got to the hospital dear Mr. Finley had been waiting about 90 minutes.

I was angry, embarrassed, repentant. "Mr. Finley, I am so very sorry you had to wait so long. I know this is not an easy morning for you, and instead of helping you, I made the morning more difficult."

Without hesitation, Mr. Finley tucked his cane into my car, turned and patted my hand, and said, "Young lady, don't you worry a second. Every day I have is a blessing."

I was his ride - but he was my medicine.

We are excited to read more inspiring stories as Monique continues on her humanizing quest.  More about Monique and her #SeattleAntifreeze movement can be found on her Facebook page:

Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon Recap

The Transportation Program’s Annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon took place on December 15th, and (as always) it was a fun and inspiring event for all those in attendance. The gathering was the perfect way to thank volunteers for everything they’ve done in the past year and recognize drivers celebrating milestone anniversaries with the program. With good food, motivating words of wisdom, interesting conversation, and amazing prizes, it was certainly an afternoon to remember!

Here, staff members eagerly await the arrival of over 215 volunteers and program supporters at the check-in table.
The room was soon filled to the brim with positive energy and excitement.
5-year drivers
10-year drivers
15-year drivers
Many wonderful door prizes were given out to over 30 lucky winners.
There was even a unique fish basket.

Cindy Zwart, Transportation Program Director and Senior Services employee for 25 years, included a humorous and thoughtful Top Ten list in her remarks. All volunteer drivers could relate to her commentary.  Her "Top Ten Reasons You Know You are a Volunteer Driver" were as follows:

1. You don’t get paid. And believe me, we couldn’t afford to pay you! Last year you donated over 55,000 hours of your time – the value of your time based on Washington State’s estimated value of volunteer labor was $1,266,824.90!

2. On a regular basis, your significant other looks at you and says, “Are you taking the car again, dear?”

3. You know the back roads to every medical facility in King County.

4. You feel really, really good! Studies show that people who volunteer experience better physical health, including lower blood pressure, increased brain function, lower rates of depression and a longer lifespan. Which means you can drive for us for many more years!

5. You are the star of your book club because now you have time to read each month’s selection while waiting at the doctor’s office for your client.

6. You have a recurring nightmare that you are lost in a parking garage in downtown Seattle and cannot find your way out.

7. You mean to call your husband, but you call Donald [Lead Volunteer Transportation Coordinator] instead.

8. You’ve made many, many new friends. In all their cards and letters, clients describe you as their friend, their life saver, their hero, their guardian angel. Every time you drive, you bring a smile to their face, a little joy to their day, you touch their hearts and make they realize that someone cares.

9. Every year you get to attend a fabulous Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.

10. At night when you go to sleep, and in the morning when you wake up, you know in your heart that whatever evils and problems afflict this world that you are helping to make our community a more humane and better place to live.

The festive occasion renewed enthusiasm for continuing our collective work to “make our community a more humane and better place to live.”

***We’d like to publicly thank this year’s door prize sponsors who helped make the 2015 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon such a resounding success: Ivar’s/Kidd Valley Restaurants, Taco Time, Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips, McLendon Hardware, Jiffy Lube, PCC Natural Markets, EMP Museum, Washington Dental Service, Brown Bear Car Wash, LeMay Car Museum, Total Wine & More, Wing Luke Museum, Trader Joe’s, Museum of Flight, Ethan Stowell’s Chippy’s restaurant in Ballard, Mary Ann Arnone, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Chocolates, Office Depot/Office Max, Emerald Downs, Trident Seafood, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Paula Houston, Pacific Science Center, Donald and Teresa Benedict, and Tulalip Resort Casino.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Seattle Times Spotlight

We were delighted to see our program, including volunteer driver Bill Goodfellow and client Mary Roberts, featured in this article in today's edition of the Seattle Times.  We were profiled because Senior Services is one of twelve local agencies that will benefit from the Seattle Times Fund For the Needy.  What an exciting opportunity!

We'd like to share the story's narrative about Volunteer Transportation here:

Seniors helping seniors
While some Seattle and King County residents enjoyed an economic resurgence after the recession of 2008, those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder have not shared in the prosperity.

In the annual overnight count of homeless in King County early this year, volunteers found 3,772 men, women and children had no shelter, more than a 20 percent increase from the previous year.

Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, called the tally “heartbreaking evidence that we cannot cover our community’s most basic needs.”

The numbers of people in need are large. The Census Bureau estimates that 60,000 children and 20,000 seniors in King County are living in households below the poverty level.

As baby boomers age, the ranks of elders swell. Today’s “youngest” oldsters may need to stay in the workforce longer, or live more years in which they’ll depend on Social Security and savings.

In the effort to help seniors, Senior Services uses a particularly effective resource: other seniors.

Of the 3,800 volunteers that put in a combined 274,000 hours last year, the agency estimates that 85 percent were at least 60 years old.

Among them is Bill Goodfellow, of Seattle, who’ll turn 80 in December.

For seven years — usually several times a week — he has driven Senior Services clients to doctor visits or other appointments. He stays through their appointments and takes them home.

The retired architect and structural engineer happily gives up the time. If the appointment is a long one, that’s fine, he said. It gives him more time to read the library books — including many mysteries — he has downloaded onto his iPad.

Goodfellow forgoes the money Senior Services offers for gas and parking, as do other drivers he knows, who consider it part of “their contribution to the program.”

Mary Roberts, 89, of Seattle, gets dropped off at her
dentist’s office by Senior Services volunteer Bill Goodfellow.
(Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times) 
The unsung heroes of the program, he said, are the Senior Services staffers who, a week at a time, match up ride requests with the available drivers.

Senior Services’ ride programs took clients a total of 1,113,422 miles last year, the equivalent of more than two round trips to the moon.

The best part of the assignment, he said, is meeting interesting people, such as Mary Roberts, 89, whom he recently drove from her Capitol Hill apartment to her Beacon Hill dentist.

Mary Roberts, 89, of Seattle, jokes around with
Senior Services volunteer driver Bill Goodfellow, who turns 80
in December. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
A few years ago, Roberts might not have envisioned needing this service. But that changed when she got in a serious car crash while driving to a square-dancing session in West Seattle.

“No one was injured, thankfully. But I decided it was a sign. I couldn’t take the thought of hurting someone.” So she hung up her car keys for good.

Roberts, a retired materials-purchasing manager for a railroad, enjoys walking and doesn’t mind the 12-block walk to her church, Capitol Hill Presbyterian.

But she’s glad to have the option of Senior Services rides to doctor visits. She makes donations for the rides — but still less than she’d have to pay if she used a taxi.

And she regards Goodfellow as nothing less than an important civic asset.

“He just a really sweet guy,” she said. “And we’re fortunate to have him.”


 As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, we give thanks for Bill and all the rest of our our amazing and inspiring volunteer drivers!

About Me

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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news and updates about Sound Generations’ (formerly Senior Services') Transportation Program. Throughout King County, our inspiring volunteers provide needed mobility to local seniors, supporting them in their efforts to remain independent, healthy, and happy. Please drop by to read more about the unique experiences of our volunteers, clients and staff!
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