They are, after all, not just keys to the car–they are links to freedom and independence.
Without them, older adults can begin to feel physically and socially isolated, and that can lead to health issues such as depression.
That was one of the reasons for the development of ITNOrlando, an affiliate of the original ITN, which stands for the Independent Transportation Network, established in Portland, ME. ITNOrlando, which launched in 2006, received initial planning and early operating grants from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF).
One of a variety of transportation options designed to support seniors when they no longer can drive, ITNOrlando is a membership model. Older adults—60 and above and those who are visually impaired—pay an annual membership fee and then pay costs per ride which are withdrawn from a pre-paid account.
Volunteers provide the rides in their private vehicles and no money is exchanged during the trip, and tips are not allowed. Service is described by ITNOrlando as “arm-through-arm, door-through-door.” The driver meets the rider at his or her door and walks her to the car. At the end of the ride, the driver then walks the rider through the door of his or her destination.
There currently are 480 members and 47 active volunteers providing services, according to Kimber Threet Saint-Preux, Executive Director of ITNOrlando. Last year ITNOrlando provided 8,500 rides, and by December 2014, the non-profit expects to have provided a total of 57,000 rides to older adults in the area.
Most rides are medically related, but not far behind are social trips–to the YMCA, to see a friend, go to church, get hair and nails done, etc., according to Saint-Preux.
The service, which started operating within 15 zip codes, is now in 27.
To participate as a rider, members are asked for a $60 donation or more each year. The cost of a ride is extra and is withdrawn from an account that is pre-paid. There is a $4 pick-up fee plus a $1.50/mile cost for trips scheduled in advance through a reservation system with ITNOrlando. The fees are higher for same-day reservations and night time trips. Service is available 24 hours a day and the average bill is about $10, according to Saint-Preux.
The service has meant many things to riders such as independence and dignity.
And then there is the ice cream.
Ms. Saint-Preux noted one member said she was thrilled to be able to have butter pecan ice cream now that she was a member of ITNOrlando. Puzzled, she asked the rider to elaborate. The rider explained while she could always travel to the grocery by bus, by the time all stops were made and everyone was back on the bus, her ice cream had melted. She stopped buying it. Her ITNOrlando membership enabled her to buy it again and be assured it would still be frozen when she got home.
Another happy rider is the bachelor who goes to Beef ‘O’Brady’s every day and the 82-year-old member whose first ride via ITNOrlando was a trip to Walt Disney World. She had never been there and had always wanted to go, Ms. Saint-Preux said.
“Friendship is another one of the benefits of the ITNOrlando program—for both drivers and passengers,” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director for Older Adults. “Real relationships are forged between drivers and their riders as they travel and talk on a regular basis. The one-on-one time these people share together is a true benefit. Friendships enrich the lives and health of everyone.”