changing lives: one ride at a time

When David Bubser’s wife passed away, he sunk into a deep depression. To make matters worse, his declining vision meant that he could no longer drive. To pull himself out of it and to get his life back, he turned to RideConnect, a program of Family Services of Westchester that relies on volunteers to provide free rides to people aged 60 and older.

Bubser now uses the ride service not only to get his shopping done, but also to get to his volunteer position at My Second Home, an intergenerational adult day program that his wife had attended. According to Karen Ganis, the director of RideConnect, “Dave is a poster person for paying it forward; he now volunteers and changes other people’s lives.”

Because of Bubser’s story and others, RideConnect was awarded the 2016 Star Award for Merit by the National Volunteer Transportation Center, in recognition of RideConnect’s excellence in helping people maintain their independence and quality of life. Ganis points to another client, a 101-year-old woman who has outlived her husband, children, and siblings, saying, “She has us [RideConnect].”

RideConnect volunteers drive clients wherever they need to go within Westchester County (some also go into southern Putnam County, Greenwich, and New Canaan): to veterinary appointments, the library, exercise class – not just to doctors appointments. “If all we do is take people to the doctor, they’re not really living,” says Ganis. Nancy Kessler, a volunteer driver and the owner of Memoirs Plus, says she loves the fact that she doesn’t provide rides only to medical appointments: “I take people to the grocery store, the hair salon, the senior center to play bridge.”

Volunteers build relationships with the people they drive. Unlike sitting in the back seat of a taxi, with someone who’s not necessarily communicating with them, drivers engage with their riders: listening to stories about who they are and what they’ve done. For volunteers and clients, the ride itself is a social opportunity, a way to connect with others in the community. Plus, volunteers help defray living expenses for those on a fixed income. Taxis from town to town, even within towns, can be costly. A $50 taxi ride to get groceries can be a burden, and grocery delivery defeats the purpose of enabling people to get out and about and to feel a part of the world.
Pat Keane, a volunteer driver and retiree from Bedford Hills, has observed that loneliness and isolation are common themes among the clients, adding that “I get as much out of it as they do.” Another volunteer takes an older couple to visit their daughter who is in a nursing home with early-age Alzheimer’s. RideConnect is the only way this couple has to visit their daughter on a regular basis.

RideConnect now operates with 200 volunteers – up from 100 just a year ago. In 2016, the not-for-profit handled 15,971 rides and referrals, and 2,200 clients. That’s the reason Ganis easily offers this observation: “All of our volunteers are angels here on earth; each volunteer is paying it forward in a really big way.”

Despite a steady increase in volunteers, RideConnect still has to turn away about 100 people a month who are seeking rides. The organization is happy for volunteers to take on as many or as few rides as they can manage. Says Ganis, there are teachers who volunteer only in the summer; others provide rides only in the evening, on weekends, or once a month. But each one makes a difference, one ride at a time.

Volunteer drivers for RideConnect are subject to a criminal background check and a DMV check. Once on board, they are assigned a user ID and password, and can self-assign their rides. To volunteer or to inquire about rides, call 914-242-7433. Visit their website to learn more:

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