ANNAPOLIS – Janet Boatman stepped out of the hair boutique at the South Senior Center in Edgewater with a set of freshly pressed curls and a beaming smile.
“It keeps me young to be able to get out and do things,” the Annapolis resident said as she walked across the parking lot to a silver SUV.
Even at 89, Boatman has always gotten around on her own. But last month she was left unable to drive after she tripped over her vacuum cleaner, fell and fractured two vertebrae. Now she has constant back and shoulder pain.
Boatman’s husband, John, 88, broke his hip several years ago, and with no family nearby, the Boatmans would have needed to rely on a taxi, but Partners in Care, an organization that provides transportation and other services to seniors in Anne Arundel County, was there to help.
“It’s about doing neighborly things for others,” said volunteer driver Maureen Cavaiola, who has known the Boatmans for years and is also a co-founder of Partners in Care. ” It gives you someone else you can rely on.”
Now, with the help of a $100,000 grant provided by the Maryland Transit Administration, Partners in Care and other programs like it in Maryland can offer their transportation services to more seniors who might otherwise be stuck at home.
Five programs — Partners in Care, Howard County’s Neighbor Ride, Action in Maturity in Baltimore, Baltimore County’s County Ride and Jewish Family Services in Baltimore — will receive part of the grant.
These programs provide seniors with transportation needs ranging from medical appointments to shopping trips or lunch with friends. Rides from volunteers cost less than taking a taxi cab and they’re more personal, seniors said.
Barbara Huston, president of Partners in Care in Severna Park, said the service pairs seniors with volunteers from their neighborhoods who want to help.
“We developed this program as a way for neighbors to get involved and help each other,” she said. “There are lots of older people living independently at home who just don’t have a drivers license or can’t drive, and for them it’s difficult to get around.”
Partners in Care began in 1993 and now provides transportation to about 1,200 seniors. The $24,300 from the grant will allow Partners in Care to expand, Huston said.
The recent surge in gas prices has added a new challenge for the program, she said, because the more than 200 volunteer drivers now must pay that higher price.
“Volunteers are donating their time to the program. Sometimes they give three or four hours a day, and now gas is more than $3 a gallon.” Huston said. “Part of what the grant is putting into the program will help reimburse these drivers for their services.”
Co-founder Cavaiola said Partners in Care provides a $20 reimbursement for every 75 miles volunteers drive.
Partners in Care also stresses the “give and take” of volunteer work, she said.
“A lot of people want to give,” she said, “but we also ask people to take back. We want everyone to feel like they can get something from our program.”
The Boatmans are a perfect example of this, she said, because for the past few years, Janet has volunteered her time as a driver for Partners in Care.
Since her accident, though, Janet has used the transportation service five times herself, and she said she will continue to use it until she heals, which should be in about three months.
“It’s comforting to know that you have someone to drive you to an appointment who will wait for you or stay with you until you get back,” she said.
Another program that will receive money from the grant is Neighbor Ride, a similar program based in Columbia. The service pairs its 67 volunteers with seniors in Howard County who need transportation.
Executive Director Colleen Konstanzer said more than 250 seniors are registered for Howard County’s Neighbor Ride, which costs between $6 and $10 for rides in the county and can provide transportation to anywhere in the state.
The program, funded mostly through grants, began in November 2004 and has already scheduled more than 730 rides, she said. The number of seniors using Neighbor Ride has increased each month, and the number of rides reached up to 100 in August.
“Volunteers step forward despite the gas prices,” Konstanzer said. “But the small fee provides some mechanism to keep them involved.”
The $22,500 from the Maryland Transit Administration will allow the program to grow, she said. “It will give us the ability to expand our volunteer capacity” she said. “Not just to recruit more volunteers, but to do the things needed to properly train, manage and retain them.”