Volunteers to give Down East seniors a lift

Posted Aug. 07, 2009, at 7:21 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — Senior citizens and people who lack transportation for medical treatment have a new resource available to them. GoCoBay, short for Go Cobscook Bay, is a coordinated program that links volunteers and those in need.

The new program was unveiled Thursday during a gathering of town officials, senior citizen services providers and other caregivers, and comes a month after a meeting of caregivers and others who had identified the lack of public transportation as one of the most serious issues the elderly and ill face Down East.

Last month, one cancer survivor told of driving herself to Bangor for chemotherapy and then stopping along Route 9 on the way home to sleep for an hour before resuming the trip home.

A mother told of having to quit her job to provide transportation to medical treatments for her dying son.

Tim King, executive director of Washington-Hancock Community Agency, said GoCoBay would have a coordinator paid through WHCA for the first year. In each of the communities served, there will be a local volunteer.

“If you need transportation, you call the local area coordinator first,” King said. That coordinator will call the volunteer in the community. The goal is to have a list of resources available for that volunteer, including the names of volunteer drivers.

“The answer to this issue isn’t the federal government. It isn’t Augusta,” King said. “It is a local solution. We need to come up with a way to help each other.”

Linda Belfiore, the transportation services director for WHCA, said a similar meeting was held recently in Lubec to begin networking there.

Several at the meeting were concerned that enough volunteers would come forward to support the program.

Brenda Gay-Barker is the community director for Meals On Wheels and said she is having a great deal of difficulty getting drivers, even with offering a stipend.

“Coordination is the key,” said Michael Riesman of the Beth Wright Cancer Center in Ellsworth. “There seems to be a lot of [volunteer] transportation out there, much of it private.”

Several people at Thursday’s meeting suggested coordinating the volunteer drivers with the West Bus Co. schedule.

Belfiore also said WHCA recently purchased a bus formerly operated by the Passamaquoddy Nation, and it will provide daily trips from Eastport to Calais as well as trips to shopping, the library and other Eastport locations.

The bus is a 12-passenger vehicle with a wheelchair lift.

A bus schedule will be published this week in local weekly papers.

King explained that the role of WHCA in GoCoBay would be to provide the coordinator for the first year. After that, the towns will have to raise the funding for the coordinator’s position.

Other suggestions toward solving the transportation issue included networking with churches and organizations in Bangor to find host families for those who must stay overnight to receive medical treatments.

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