MT. VERNON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A volunteer organization in the Belgrade Lakes area celebrated its first anniversary Monday of providing an invaluable service to older members of the community.
Neighbors Driving Neighbors provides free rides to people who can no longer drive. In a state such as Maine, which has one of the oldest populations in the country, the service fills a great need.
In rural parts of the state, there are few, if any, forms of public transportation, making it difficult for seniors who no longer drive to make basic trips to the store or to a doctor’s appointment.
“How can we, without becoming a burden to local taxpayers, find a way to help people have their daily needs met?" Fayette Town Manager Mark Robinson said.
Robison helped find the solution by starting up a network of volunteers to drive them.
For Dan Onion and Sandy Wright, who now help run the program, it was one particular case involving a senior that brought the problem to a head. A very well-liked community member, who ran the local food bank, had to make the difficult decision of leaving her home and moving to Augusta because it was close to the services she needed.
“It really upset people that she couldn’t stay in town," Onion said. "There have been several older women who are in similar positions."
The program only works because of the volunteers who donate their time and vehicles. Giving rides is Shelly Fitzgerald's way of giving back, but she also gets a lot in return.
“Most of our riders are delightful," she said. "They’re appreciative and they have great stories to share. It really makes me feel more connected to this community for sure.:
The program serves five communities in the Belgrade Lakes region. Over the past year, it has provided nearly 300 free rides.