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Rider companion program connects volunteers with seniors

MARSHALL — Being able to get around town when you need to is a big part of living independently. To make that easier for those who need a little extra help, United Community Action Partnership has a rider companion program.

“The rider companion program is relatively new,” said Shelly Pflaum, mobility administrator at UCAP. “We have been offering rider companions as needed or requested for about a year. Getting things going on a large scale has been a bit of a challenge because we don’t have the volunteer base to go big, but we also need to get enough requests to keep volunteers active. So, as we prepare to launch Seniors on the Go in January, we are looking for volunteer rider companions and preparing for some rider registration events.”

The program is open to those who need it.

“Anyone who needs a little bit of extra assistance to successfully get a ride and be as independent as possible for as long as possible can use a rider companion,” Pflaum said. “Rider companions are available to anyone any time and offer light-duty, non-medical assistance. This could include someone to offer comfort to nervous riders, being there at the end of an appointment to offer reassurance while waiting for the bus, helping someone get safely from their home to the bus or from the bus to the door of an appointment, anything of that nature.”

UCAP received a grant for its Assisting Seniors on the Go program.

“We got a Title III grant to begin our ASG program in January,” said Pflaum. “This program combines rider companion services with some discounted ride rates. This is exclusively for seniors.”

Rider companions are not just for seniors.

“While discounts will not be available to younger people, rider companions definitely are,” Pflaum said.

Rider companion volunteers receive training before being matched with a rider.

“Rider companions go through a simple registration and orientation process with UCAP, and are then trained one-on-one with riders whom they are matched with,” said Pflaum.

“There is a small, probably about an hour, orientation,” said Terri Downing, volunteer specialist at UCAP. “We fill out some paperwork, go over some basics and then they have to do a background check. Than I will try to pair them up with a client that is requesting a rider companion, usually based on availability but could be on need also.”

Currently, there are more people requesting rider companions than there are volunteers.

“As of right now we only have two rider companions and we have been getting a couple new people wanting rider companions every week,” Downing said. “There is a lot of need for this program and it is so much fun going out and getting to know the people so they can be in there homes longer with just a little assistance.”

For more information on volunteering, call Downing at 537-1416 ext. 2165.

For scheduling rides with a rider companion, call 537-7628 option 3.

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