Friday, March 27, 2015

In the News!

KING 5, a local NBC affiliate, aired a story about our Volunteer Transportation program and its need for volunteer drivers earlier this week. Through poignant footage of Claire Anderson (client) and Judy Goett (volunteer driver), the report demonstrates how King County residents can "give a lift and lift spirits at the same time!"

Here it is:


We are grateful for this coverage and hopeful that it will connect us with lots of people feeling inspired and ready to hit the roads with Volunteer Transportation!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Volunteer Driving-- The Best Way to Spend Your Retirement Years!


Our volunteer drivers represent a variety of backgrounds and have a diverse array of experiences.  They come from all walks of life and span seven decades of the age spectrum.  But there’s no denying that a large number of them are retired.

This became particularly clear at a recent volunteer driver gathering in Kirkland. As each volunteer introduced himself/herself, many stated something along the lines of the following: “I became a volunteer driver because I wanted something meaningful to do that would get me out of the house and keep me busy during retirement.”  They also remarked, “I really enjoy it because the people are so grateful for my help and make me feel like I’m making a difference.”

These volunteers are on to something.  As noted in this article in USA Today,

"Volunteering is not only good for others, it's good for you.

Research shows that people who volunteer report lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression, fewer physical limitations and lower levels of stress than those who don't volunteer, says Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that administers Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and other programs. ‘The health benefits are huge.’"

The story also details the significant positive impact these retirees collectively make in our communities: "More than 20 million older adults — more than a quarter of those 55 and older — contributed on average more than 3 billion hours of service in their communities per year from 2011 to 2013. The value of this service is estimated at $75 billion."

We are grateful to have so many retirees as volunteer drivers for our program.  It is an obvious win-win situation for all of us!

Of course, if you know a retiree looking for a fun and worthwhile way to make the best of their newfound freedom [or anyone else with weekday availability], send them our way!  Have them contact Hilary at (206)748-7588 or hilaryc@seniorservices.org to start their journey as a volunteer driver.  They can “pay it forward” while finding passion and purpose in their golden years.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Volunteer in the Limelight: Kathe Kern

One of our incredible volunteer drivers, Kathe Kern, is featured in Senior Services' latest e-newsletter.  You can find it here, and we've also pasted it below for your enjoyment.  We are so glad that Kathe (and all 5 of her boys) have been a part of the Volunteer Transportation program for so long!   


Volunteer driver Kathe Kern and client Tamaya Nomi.

Kathe Kern has been on the road for 25 years, and counting.

Senior Services volunteer driver Kathe Kern has always believed in giving her time to help others. With a degree in zoology and chemistry she began her first volunteer gig—reading and recording textbooks for blind students. But when her first son came along, Kathe found she could no longer make recordings. Babies are loud! 

Fortunately, Kathe came across a Senior Services ad in the newspaper for volunteer drivers to take seniors to medical appointments. The gig seemed perfect as it allowed her to put her little boy in the backseat and take him along. Twenty-five years and four more boys later, Kathe is still driving. All five kids—one or two at a time—accompanied her as she went from her Mercer Island home all over the east side and Seattle with elders needing rides to the doctor.

Kathe says her boys learned valuable lessons from the experience. “I drove a woman who had cancer,” she remembers, “and she yelled at me. The boys’ eyes got as big as the moon, since they knew no one was allowed to talk to mom that way. Later I explained that the lady was very sick and maybe dying, and this is one of those times you have to be understanding.”

Senior Services’ Volunteer Transportation program provides door-to-door rides to medical appointments and back for seniors who are not able to drive themselves or manage public transportation. Last year, 800 caring and dedicated people—many of them seniors themselves—volunteered to help elders get to their doctors. 

According to Kathe, the rewards of driving are great. “It has been as good for me as for the people I drove,” she says. “They’re good company and we tell each other our stories.” The clients have been appreciative and always loved seeing Kathe’s kids.

Though the boys are grown now, Kathe still drives several times a week. “It gets me out of the house!” 
Friday, February 27, 2015

Volunteer Drivers Needed!

Please help us spread the word: We are in great need of more volunteer drivers!  Here is our latest call for volunteers:


Drive the Distance for Local Seniors!

Getting to the doctor’s office can seem daunting for many local seniors.  Poor vision or medical conditions prevent them from driving; limited mobility makes it impossible to take the bus; taxis come with prohibitive costs; and loved ones have full-time jobs that render them unavailable to help.  Yet, since 1975, Senior Services’ Volunteer Transportation has served as a trustworthy resource for older adults throughout King County.  With its force of kind and reliable volunteers, the program provides the missing link between seniors and their necessary medical care.

But the value of Volunteer Transportation extends far beyond the rides themselves.  A volunteer driver serves as a friendly escort-- a companion-- someone to talk to along the way.  Volunteers turn previously stressful ordeals into pleasant, meaningful experiences.

More volunteer drivers are needed throughout King County.  The program currently does not have enough volunteer drivers to keep up with the growing community need for transportation.

You can help more seniors get “on the road” to improved health and peace of mind!  If you have a reliable vehicle, a clean driving record and some weekday availability, this is the role for you. Call (206) 748-7588, email Hilary at hilaryc@seniorservices.org or visit www.seniorservices.org/transportation to find out more.  Discover why rides change lives!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Client Profile: Rose Braun

Farm Work to City Life

Rose holds up a photograph featuring [almost] all of 
the 17 members of her immediate family!
Rose Braun is an 88-year-old regular Volunteer Transportation client.  It is easy to see that her current life in Shoreline is a far cry from her youth in North Dakota.

Rose grew up on a farm during the Great Depression in a family of fifteen children (not including one who died of Scarlett Fever) without running water, irrigation, or electricity.  Their home included many features of this traditional lifestyle, yet it was equipped for North Dakota’s extreme seasons.  They had an outhouse; an old-fashioned, non-electric washing machine; windmills; rain barrels for collecting water; a root cellar; a smokehouse that converted to an ice house with the use of ice cut out of frozen rivers and insulation provided by straw; and a sleigh that converted to a wagon. They had a “summer house” for butchering, canning, and hot cooking in warmer months and a rope that guided them to the well for water during winter blizzards.  There was never a dull moment in such a household!

Pictures from Rose's childhood: the family's
 threshing machine, farmhouse, and summer house
Rose and her fourteen siblings developed a strong work ethic at an early age.  The girls of her family were born first (Rose was the sixth child), and they worked long days in the fields with tasks like binding and threshing before milking the cows and completing household chores.  She remembers times when the family had company, which meant that they started cooking at 2:00AM and stayed up late into the night washing dishes.  When they were older, Rose and her sisters all found work outside of the home to pay their way through high school, making $1 per month.  They didn't take anything for granted.

Rose reports that she never felt deprived during her formative years.  “There were really bad days and really good days,” she explains.  It was just a different way of life.
Rose's parents

Rose seized an opportunity to move to the Pacific Northwest in 1952 but brought her hardworking farm girl outlook with her.  She got a job at Boeing, raised a family, and ran her own house cleaning operation for 21 years.  The fieldwork of her youth caused her to need both knees replaced in 1994, and she survived breast cancer several years ago.  When her husband, Al, became ill and lost his vision, Rose learned to drive in her late 70’s.  She provided his transportation to local appointments until he passed away in 2009.

As a new driver, Rose never felt comfortable driving freeways.  She and Al both initially registered for the Volunteer Transportation program in 2002, and she continues to rely on the program’s volunteer drivers to get to regular appointments with the eye doctor.  She really appreciates the service.  She says, “I’m so glad to have you guys!”

Volunteer drivers love meeting Rose and talking with her during rides.  She has strong memories of her early days and exudes an inspiring spirit of vivacity.  Although a lot has changed in her life over the years, Rose clearly still has her North Dakota-born strength and determination.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Small World Story

An Unexpected Ride with a Relative


Volunteer driver, Louise Mnich
“You just never know who you might meet on a volunteer ride!” says Volunteer Transportation driver Louise Mnich.  She has given many rides since she joined the program’s volunteer force in September 2013 and met many amazing seniors along the way.   But there is one client who stands out above the others.  That person is Virginia Hamilton.

Like Louise, Virginia loves Volunteer Transportation and has had countless memorable rides since she became a client in 2011.  She regularly praises all of the program’s volunteer drivers and often calls them her “angels.”  Yet, the fateful ride that she recently received from Louise was different from all the rest.  In fact, the 96-year-old describes the day Louise took her to Seattle’s PacMed Clinic from her home in Bellevue as one of the best days of her life!

The ride started out like any other, and Virginia could quickly tell that she liked Louise.  They had so much in common; they shared many of the same interests (they even liked the same radio talk show host); and they talked as if they’d known each other for years.  The tone of the conversation changed drastically, though, when Louise recognized some of the names Virginia mentioned.  Louise asked, “Are you related to Larry Hamilton?”

Larry Hamilton was her mother’s cousin.  He survived the Bataan Death March and became a POW at the Cabanatuan Camp, where he was later shipped to Manchuria, China.  He completed manual labor as a Japanese POW in Manchuria for 43 months and lived to tell harrowing tales of survival.  After the war, he spent several weeks with Louise’s grandmother (Larry’s aunt) in LA after being released from a military hospital in San Francisco, and Louise met him much later as a teenager growing up in Southern California.  Larry was a true inspiration to her… and he was also Virginia’s late husband!

“Talk about serendipity!” Louise exclaims as she recounts their conversation.  She and Virginia compared notes about their family (including times that they’d possibly met in the past) and rehashed all of Larry’s war stories.  Virginia was surprised at how much Louise knew about her deceased husband, and she was able to fill in some of the gaps.

Louise writes, “Meeting Larry as a teenager made a lasting impression on me.  He told one touching story about a Japanese doctor at a POW camp in Manchuria.  Larry was seriously ill with spinal meningitis.   At great risk to himself, the Japanese doctor obtained and administered medicine to Larry, which saved his life.”  This real-life parable demonstrated that goodness can be found in all people, even during situations that bring out the worst of them, and it had always stuck with Louise as one of life’s most important lessons.  Virginia was able to update the story: She and Larry later returned to Japan and, remarkably, found that same Japanese doctor!  They were able to throw him a party and thank him for saving Larry’s life.
An image from the Bataan Death March

Louise and Virginia also reflected about Larry’s time in the Bataan Death March.  Virginia described how he was able to stay alive because of the survival skills he’d acquired as a Boy Scout in Arizona, helping him to conserve resources.  Larry’s ordeal had often crossed Louise’s mind.  She explains, “When I was in the Navy, I was stationed in the Philippines and got to see where the last of the American forces fought on Corregidor, the roadways used during the Bataan Death March, and the first Philippine POW camp.  It was moving for me to think I had a relative who lived through all of that.  Unfortunately, Larry died while I was living in the Philippines, so I was never able to share my later experiences with him.”  Spending time with Virginia allowed Louise to explain her own emotional connection to Larry’s arduous journey.

When Virginia reached the clinic, her blood pressure was lower than it has been in years.  “It was because of happiness!” she states.  “Being so happy made me healthier.”

Both Louise and Virginia report that they are thrilled to have found one another, and they are currently working to restore old family ties.  Louise says, “Virginia is an interesting woman in her own right, and I look forward to getting to know her better and learn about her life as well.”

We often use the tagline “Rides change lives,” and this statement rings true for both Louise Mnich and Virginia Hamilton.  A seemingly ordinary trip to the doctor had extraordinary implications for both of them, transforming their lives in a profoundly meaningful way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Client profile: Wasyl Fedorowicz

Kindness and Resilience amidst Adversity:
The Story of Wasyl Fedorowicz
Wasyl rides the Hyde Shuttles three times per week and is a 
regular client of Volunteer Transportation.

Wasyl  Fedorowicz is a survivor.  Like many Ukrainians, his life was molded by dark events of Eastern Europe’s long history of conflict.  There are memories so upsetting he buried them deep into his subconscious and experiences so traumatizing they caused him years of PTSD-induced nightmares.   His story, like that of his homeland, contains underlying currents of cruelty, suffering and injustice.  But it is also marked by great kindness.  Interwoven through Wasyl’s tales of fear, powerlessness and hardship is the strong theme of compassion.

War shaped much of Wasyl’s journey.  He was born in 1923 in a small Ukrainian village under Polish control.  At a young age, he was recruited to serve as a courier to an underground organization against the Soviet Union-- delivering messages in the cold and darkness of stormy nights.  World War II broke out when he was 16.  The Germans soon invaded his country and sent him to a forced labor camp in Germany at age 19.  He never saw his parents alive again.   He spent the next 7 years of his life, even after the end of WWII in 1945, in German camps.  He moved to the United States as a displaced person in 1949 and wasn’t able to visit his village again until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Wasyl vividly recalls times when brave, kind people saved his life.  Once, his boss’ daughter intervened as angry members of Hitler’s loyal SS Corps were ready to shoot him.  One grabbed Wasyl’s hat and pulled it down so forcefully that it covered his face.  With gentle grace, the young German woman reminded the belligerent militants that Wasyl and his friends were hard workers contributing to the war effort. They left him alone.

Another time, an English officer interviewed Wasyl to assign him his respective ethnic camp.  Wasyl proudly announced that he was Ukrainian.  The officer would not have it.  He asserted, “You are NOT Ukrainian; you are Polish!”  It wasn’t until later that Wasyl realized the official’s intent: While the Ukrainian camp would have placed him in unendurable conditions, placement in a Polish camp gave him opportunity.  He remembers saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the caring officer.

Wasyl’s stories of more recent years have a very different tone, but they continue to include examples of selfless acts in the midst of challenging circumstances.  He provided many years of tender care for his wife, Helen, as she adjusted to life after a knee replacement, a broken hip and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.   But it soon became too much for him to manage.  They eventually relocated to Seattle to be near family, and Helen moved to a skilled nursing facility.

Wasyl now relies on Senior Services’ Transportation Program to visit his wife as frequently as he can.  Volunteer Transportation drivers pick him up, take him to the nursing home, and allow him to spend quality time with Helen.  He is very grateful for the service.  He recently reported with great excitement that he had witnessed Helen taking small, precarious steps with the assistance of a walker and the help of the facility’s medical staff.  It meant a lot for him to witness her progress.  His wife isn’t the same person that she used to be, but he is still there for her—unfaltering in his love and devotion.

He also uses the Hyde Shuttles to get to the Central Area Senior Center three times per week.  The socialization and community found at the Senior Center are important for Wasyl’s overall wellbeing.

The volunteer drivers who take Wasyl to his meaningful visits to his wife, the Hyde Shuttle drivers who provide him with transportation to invigorating activities and his friends at the Senior Center may not ever learn of the difficult past he has overcome.   Yet, they offer him support and companionship without expecting anything in return.  Wasyl’s life is full of many contrasting stories, juxtaposing dehumanizing instances of oppression with poignant moments of humanity.

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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news, and updates about 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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