ROCKLAND, Maine — Georgia Woodman, 62, of Owls Head remembers when her toddling little boy could do everything his friends could. But when her son Sam Hodgkins was diagnosed with spinal meningitis at age 5 it led to seizures, blindness and brain damage. To give Hodgkins as normal a life as possible, Woodman has been driving her now-29-year-old son around town to his job and activities. But because of a new program in the midcoast, Hodgkins and about 50 other people with disabilities are gaining independence.
The local nonprofit Coastal Trans recently got a $199,000 grant to help people with disabilities get around by giving them transportation vouchers. The ultimate goal is to help people with disabilities become active members in their communities.
Hodgkins holds a job at the Rockland Burger King, but because he can’t drive, Woodman had been rearranging her entire schedule to accommodate her son. When Burger King would let Hodgkins out of work early, his mom would have to leave her own job to pick him up.
Now Hodgkins calls a cab.
“Many [people in the program] have MaineCare, which will get them to medical appointments. With this they can go anywhere: the store, to friends’ homes, to movies,” said Lee Karker, the executive director of Coastal Trans. “The main thing is that they don’t have to feel like they’re special in a bad way because they can’t get around.”
The program sells people with disabilities taxi vouchers for half of the real cost. For instance, the taxi fare to get Hodgkins from work to home is usually $10. With the voucher system he only pays $5; the grant covers the other half of the fare.
“If he had to pay out of his pocket [without vouchers] it would be $10 — and that’s a lot for someone who only works a couple of hours. It is more than half of his pay check. This allows him to be independent,” Woodman said.
Woodman had to teach her son how to use the vouchers and call a cab — things he had never had to do before. But now he has it down.
“It’s easy once you have a ticket. You can go anywhere. It’s nice,” Hodgkins said.
The program has been running for a little more than a month now. Hodgkins only uses the vouchers to get to work and back when his mom can’t drive him, but Woodman is hopeful that he eventually will use them to visit friends or go shopping — something fun.
“Sam would have never have gone into the community to do something independently a few years ago — and he never would have taken a cab by himself, but this has really helped him. It’s making him part of his community. It’s great,” Woodman said.
For more information on the program, which serves people in Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc counties and parts of Cumberland County, call 594-2742.