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Wheels for Wellness Looking for Volunteer Drivers

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Correspondent
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Retired Senior Volunteer Program is looking for more volunteer drivers to participate in its Wheels for Wellness program.

Wheels for Wellness recruits people 55 years and older to drive Berkshire County residents to doctors' appointments all across the county using their own cars.

The program initially received donations from Berkshire Community Action Council, Berkshire Health System, and Berkshire Interfaith Organizing to help fund the program's launch. It is also partially funded by the city of Pittsfield (RSVP is sponsored by the city) and the federal government through its Americorps Seniors program.

So far, said RSVP Director Jeff Roucoulet, people have been "very thankful for the service that's being provided for them."

That service consists of getting seniors rides to doctors' appointments anywhere in Berkshire County. These rides are particularly helpful for people who are older and can no longer drive, or for those who do not have access to vehicles. Most people, said Roucoulet, use these rides to attend specialist appointments in parts of the county they would otherwise be unable to reach.

"As people age and they lose their ability to drive," Roucoulet said, they are "the [type of] people who are most in the market for this type of service."

Roucoulet said volunteers could expect to spend between two and three hours per client, including the driving time and the waiting time during the appointment. Most appointments take around an hour, he said, and clients are required to make an appointment with Wheels for Wellness at least 48 hours in advance of their planned appointment.

The only requirement for people using the ride service is that they be able to get in and out of a vehicle on their own. Drivers are not asked to find space in their cars for wheelchairs or to help with other assistive equipment. "You, as a driver, would never have to get out of your vehicle," said Roucoulet.

Drivers get their mileage reimbursed up to $50 per month at the rate of 25 cents per mile. This means that drivers can get paid for their mileage up until they drive 200 miles in a month. Roucoulet pointed out that this often covers the gas costs, but is unlikely to compensate the driver for wear and tear on their vehicles.

He did say, however, that as the program expands, he would like to increase that cap to more than $50 per month. Additionally, RSVP provides additional driver's insurance to cover anything that might happen beyond the scope of their own insurance.

­Prospective drivers are checked by RSVP for a criminal background and their names are searched on the sexual offender online database. Plus, RSVP will check the Registry of Motor Vehicle records for the driver's history and will request from the driver a copy of his insurance, registration, and license. Then drivers will have to attend an orientation to learn more about the program and to understand their expectations.

Since clients need to make appointments with the program at least two days in advance, drivers will "know their schedule days in advance." In other words, the drivers won't have to wait around until they get a call and then have to uproot themselves from whatever they're doing to bring someone to a doctors' appointment.

For drivers worried about their privacy and safety, RSVP only provides the client with the driver's first name and vehicle model.

"We really need drivers," Roucoulet said. He hopes that more people will come forward to offer their fellow Berkshire County residents this free ride service.

Both clients and drivers should call 413-395-0109 to reach out to RSVP. Rides are offered Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4.

Tags: senior center,   

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