We outlive our ability to drive by an average of 8 - 10 years. Without affordable, accommodating, and adaptable transportation, older people become vulnerable to social isolation, depression, and lack of medical care.
SMiles is a membership program and serves county residents over the age of 60 by providing essential trips through volunteer drivers who use their personal vehicles. Half of the trips are for medical purposes. Riders describe SMiles very positively, especially when referring to the drivers ("they become like family"). Most drivers feel the same about the riders. SMiles provides a win-win: social interaction AND independence AND essential trips.
MUCH MORE THAN A RIDE…
Betty was a tiny little woman, likely weighing in at no more than 100 pounds. Her husband Rob probably didn't weigh much more than his little wife, but he was a tall bony man with an eternal slight smile around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes. Betty's personality was anything but tiny, however; she dominated a conversation, partly because she couldn't hear very well, so she just kept on with a running commentary on anything that struck her fancy at the moment, meanwhile interjecting some command to Rob who always sat in the back seat. Looking at him in the rear- view mirror I could see that slight smile creep across his face as he muttered a gentle response. I always worried about them as I dropped them off at the local community free meal; if the wind was strong I worried that Betty would be blown off course because she refused to use a walker. I worried that they would be standing and waiting too long for me before I returned to pick them up again. I worried about them with all the steps into their house, inside their house, the scatter rugs tripping them.
Finally Betty ended up at the health unit at a local retirement center. They said she could go home when she was able to stand up and walk on her own again. That never happened. And I would take Rob to visit his little wife. He would take the local paper and perhaps a treat or two to share with his Beloved. And on the way home he would talk about their visit. He always finished it with, "I just hate the leaving. She always begs me to take her home, that she is strong enough now, that she just wants to come home."
These are the things I have learned as I drive for SMiles: that people hold dear to their homes even when it is unsafe for them; that love of family, of home, of pets, of old habits is stronger than common sense or doctor's orders; that people are so very, very grateful for the least little gesture of kindness; that so many of our riders would be helpless without our transportation; that there are so many more out there who need us; that I am fortunate to be able to help these people, to get to know them and appreciate their lives.
Betty died not long after she went to the retirement health care unit. I attended her graveside service, in a cemetery just a block from my home. It was a small group, mostly family. The words spoken were loving and comforting, the music by family members was as sweet as any angel could render. Rob sat between his sons, looking sad and pitiful. Half his life was gone. In a few months Rob was gone, too.
I cherish the memories of that couple, and all I did was give them a ride.
Submitted by Nan Taylor, SMiles volunteer driver
Agency: To reduce poverty by providing services and developing resources with partnering agencies to help meet basic needs to improve the lives of the elderly, disabled, and/or low income people in the community.
SMiles program: To improve quality of life and independence of non-drivers over the age of 60 who are ambulatory.