Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Reflection

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am reminded of Frederick Keonig’s statement:
“Happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”

We here at Senior Services’ Transportation Program have a lot to recognize and appreciate: our fleet of helpful volunteers; our hardworking staff; our inspiring clients; and the values of community, care, and compassion that bring our work to life!  We are grateful for this collective, supportive network and its powerful impact on everyone involved. 

Happy Thanksgiving!
Friday, November 22, 2013

Talk Time: Volunteer Drivers Play Multiple Roles, Including English Instructors

Raisa, who will turn 80 in December, 
 is very studious with her English textbooks.
When Raisa Nikitina’s two adult sons first brought her to visit the USA in the 1990’s, she marveled at everything.  She found the scenery to be incredibly beautiful; she was amazed by all of the choices; and everything was new to her.   She made several subsequent visits and soon filled multiple photo albums chronicling her experiences-- shots of her at the Pike Place Market, on a ferry ride in the Puget Sound, taking a tour at the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia, and (her favorite memory) expressing complete shock as a restaurant staff unexpectedly serenaded her son on his birthday.  It all was so novel and different from her life in Russia.

Fast forward to the present day, and Raisa is an American citizen.  Her sons ultimately persuaded her to make the big move to be closer to them and her grandchildren, and Raisa passed the citizenship exam in January of this year.  She still has the study guides that she used to learn about all of our country’s wars, which states have borders with Mexico and Canada, which oceans are on the East of the country, and all sorts of information she had not previously known.  She studied hard to achieve this goal; she was the best student in her preparation class.

Raisa is now working on another challenge: mastering the English language.  She has many English textbooks that she brought with her from Russia, but she acknowledges that the best way to learn a language is to practice.  And practice. And practice.  To her amazement, this additional practice was made possible thanks to trips to the dentist.

When Raisa was granted a “Women in Need” grant for extensive dental work, she discovered that the best dentist to meet her needs was in Bothell—a far distance from her residence in Renton.  She was soon connected with the Volunteer Transportation program to make these trips possible, and the long, regular rides allow for hands-on English lessons.

Raisa lists many of her volunteer drivers by name—Tom, Chelley, Steph—as well as the VT South King County Coordinator, Jacob.  “I love them!” she exclaims.  They help her with her pronunciation; they provide her with feedback about her grammar and word choice; they explain why things are the way they are; they work very hard to assist her; and they notice her progress.

Raisa has lots to say about her volunteer drivers/English tutors: “They are wonderful.   I am touched by their generosity and patience.  They are never late.  They have very clean cars.  They are always smiling and always wanting to help.”

Raisa reports that her sons are surprised at how well she has adapted to her new life in America.  She says that this is due, in part, to the many resources that have helped her with the transition-- including the Volunteer Transportation program.  Raisa has grown accustomed to her many new realities, but she is still in awe of the kindness and friendliness of the many Americans she has met since first moving to Renton in 2006. She is happy with her life as a proud American citizen.
Friday, November 15, 2013

Hyde Shuttles Keep Student on the Go

(In spite of being a part of Senior Services, our Hyde Shuttles serve many folks who are not seniors!   The service is available to people with disabilities as well.  This is one such story).

Olivia  can be found on the Highline
Community College campus Monday through

Olivia Williams, a regular Hyde Shuttle rider, is going places.  At 17, she already attends Highline Community College fulltime (thanks to the Running Start program) and has both short-term and long-term goals.  In the immediate future, she’d like to maintain a high GPA; achieve respectable scores on the SAT’s; and improve her strength, health, and mobility.  In the more distant future, she’d like to pursue her interest in the sciences and passion for helping others by becoming a pharmacist. 

Olivia is clearly ambitious but describes herself as: laid back, introverted, and independent.  She also acknowledges that various facets of her character have been formed by the fact that she has a disability.  She explains, “I have cerebral palsy.  I was born three months premature.  A lung collapsed-- causing my brain to hemorrhage, which affected the part of my brain that controls my movements.” 

Olivia reports that she has never felt bad about suffering from cerebral palsy because it is the only reality she has ever known, and she knows that a lot of people are in a far worse condition than she is.  Cerebral palsy has forced her to break free from her naturally shy shell to advocate for herself.  “I can’t be a wallflower,” she says.  It has also caused her to be more driven.  “I have to prove to people I can do this,” she adds.  In addition, she admits that having cerebral palsy has also caused her to be more cautious.  She recognizes that she is more vulnerable than others and needs to adapt her lifestyle accordingly. 

This is where the Hyde Shuttle comes into play.  Olivia did not feel comfortable taking the city buses to her daily classes at Highline Community College, and the stops were an unmanageable distance from her home.  Therefore, she was incredibly pleased when she discovered the Hyde Shuttles

Olivia found the smaller-scale shuttles to be a good fit for her needs and preferences.  She labels them as very convenient and expresses relief that they are always on time.  She also says, “The volunteer drivers are really nice, interesting, welcoming, and friendly.   You can tell that they really want to be there.”   She is very grateful for the service and the personalized attention she receives.  She now rides the shuttle five days per week.

The Hyde Shuttles will not provide Olivia with her transportation forever.  In addition to completing her AA, obtaining her bachelor’s degree, and attending pharmacy school, she has another plan: acquiring her driver’s license.  But, as she continues on her life journey, the shuttles (and their helpful volunteer drivers) are there to support her in her efforts to dream big and travel far. 
Friday, November 8, 2013

Volunteering, Your Favorite Medicine

This week's post is in honor of our over 600 incredible volunteers who drive their own vehicles and agency vans to transport isolated, frail, low-income King County elders to life-sustaining and life-enriching activities.  It is a Huffington Post article entitled "Why Volunteering Is So Good For Your Health."  Just another way that lives are improved by our programs!

Why Volunteering is So Good for Your Health
By Hilary Young

It's one of the first lessons we learn as children -- "sharing means caring." We might not understand why we have to share at first, especially when there are younger siblings involved, but as we grow into adulthood, sharing becomes an essential part of your social and career success.

So does it come as a surprise to learn that research now proves that sharing your time with others for a good cause can improve your overall happiness and mental well-being? It turns out that Baby Boomers give more total dollars to charities than any other generation. According to Forbes, Boomers are responsible for 34 percent of all charitable donations, which amounts to nearly $61.9 billion every year.

And according to the data collected by Volunteering In America, Boomers spent about 3.6 million hours volunteering for organizations or causes they are passionate about.

These generous Boomers seem to have tapped into volunteerism at an opportune time; two new studies have recently confirmed that there are significant health benefits to giving back.
UnitedHealth Group commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults and found that the overwhelming majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience.
  • 76 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier
  • 94 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood
  • 78 percent of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels
  • 96 percent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
  • 80 percent of them feel like they have control over their health
  • About a quarter of them reported that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems
  • Volunteers have better personal scores than non-volunteers on nine well-established measures of emotional wellbeing including personal independence, capacity for rich interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with life.
  • Volunteering also improved their mood and self-esteem
For those of us who have spent time giving back to the community or helping further a cause we believe in, you might recognize many of the above findings to be correct. It doesn't seem far-fetched to think that helping others can provide you with a sense of connection, pride, and perspective. But did you know that it can also help you live longer?

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the south of England analyzed data from 40 published studies and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than their peers who do not volunteer. The study also found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.
Friday, November 1, 2013


Our huge file of newspaper clippings, many now yellow and faded with age,
provides for a fun walk down memory lane.
Throughout the years, the Volunteer Transportation program has often been featured in the local media.  Our office has compiled a large anthology of newspaper clippings, and each article has a slightly different spin on the value of Volunteer Transportation.
Here are some of the standout headlines:
  • Working as a volunteer driver has put this stroke patient on a less bumpy road
  • Just when they need to see the doctor the most, senior citizens often lose their ability to get there
  • Transportation is one of the top problems facing King County Seniors; there’s just not enough to go around
  • Have driver, will travel
  • Volunteers make time for those who need it
  • A Helping Hand—at the Steering Wheel—for Seniors
  • It’s a rewarding “round trip” when volunteers take seniors for a ride
However it’s stated, one fact is consistently clear: Volunteer drivers have a profound positive impact on the lives of the seniors they transport, and they gain as much from the experience as their passengers.  The archived stories also make it very evident that we could always use more volunteer drivers-- no matter what month or year it is.  We continue to receive lots of support from local media outlets, adding to the growing chronicled history of our program.

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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