The issue: Senior citizens and those with mobile restrictions still need a way to get around town.
Local impact: SAILDC and GVSS provide a volunteer taxi service for residents in Dallas Center and Grimes who need help getting around.
The Dallas County Hospital and the Dallas County Public Health held a meeting to address the public transportation issues in Perry and to discuss the possibilities of a volunteer taxi service. The Sustaining Active Independent Living in Dallas Center, Inc. (SAILDC) and Grimes Volunteer Support Services (GVSS), both volunteer organizations, presented at the meeting.
Although HIRTA does serve Perry, Dallas County Public Health believes they are “restricted on their capabilities” in getting individuals where they need to be.
Bob King, the president of SAILDC and Jay Brewer, president of GVSS both spoke about how they brought their organizations to their communities and the different options for Perry.
While he began the organization Brewer admitted to not being the one with the idea behind GVSS.
“I wish it was my idea, but it wasn’t,” Brewer said. “It was a retired Lutheran pastor who served in Grimes in the 1960s. He came back because his kids lived in the area and was in poor health, he was going to the doctor and getting treatments all the time and came up with this concept.”
Brewer then began to do some research and found out Urbandale had something similar and began building his organization.
King has only been a Dallas Center resident for two years now, and as of July 16, SAILDC has been operating for one year. King started SAILDC after being inspired by a book and, just like Brewer, deciding he needed to help people to stay in their own homes as long as possible.
When King started doing his research, he found Brewer and began shadowing him. After driving for GVSS for six months and learning the ins and outs of the business, SAILDC was born.
“Bob was a lot smarter than I was,” joked Brewer. “He came over and piggy-backed off us for six months and he was three times as smart as organizing SAILDC as I was. In fact, their first year they out-did our first year.”
Both groups stick to a similar and simple concept: “Keep people in their homes as long as possible.” In order to do this, both organization need to have helpers and people willing to be helped.
Unlike most taxi services, SAILDC and GVSS checks out their clients and volunteers before they “hire” either.
SAILDC has applications for both their volunteers and clients to fill out before either can drive or ride. The driver must go through a driving and criminal background check and have a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance. The SAILDC board members also glance over the car just to make sure it is well maintained.
After the driver passes the background check, the board will try to match drivers and the size of their vehicle (car, SUV, truck) with a client based on their different needs or capabilities.
Just like the driver, the SAILDC client must go through a background check as well. A board member will visit the client’s home so they see what and how the volunteers will be helping them, but also so the board member can make sure there are no risks for the volunteer.
“We just do that to make sure they look like somebody we want and can serve,” King said.
The GVSS board members are slightly more lenient. GVSS doesn’t do background checks, they only ask for references. Luckily, such as in any small community, they know most people, especially after their seven years of being in business. Even though they don’t to background checks, they do send each driver’s license to the county sheriff to be checked.
Just like SAILDC, GVSS does visit their client’s at home.
“We do visit people at home, because we can’t be everything to everybody,” Brewer said, “and I’m not going to try to have a volunteer put their back out trying to lift a person who can’t transfer themselves. We need people who can transfer themselves into the car with mild assistance.”
Both organizations ask clients to provide six days notice, so the board can make sure a driver is available, they also check and respond to voicemails daily.
SAILDC does its best to match clients and volunteers from the beginning, they also try to establish at least two volunteers per client.
After noticing repeated trips, GVSS started looking at matching their clients and volunteers.
“Once we got over 100 trips a month, we had to start looking at doing repeat trips, people that would go to the same place every week,” Brewer said. “So we’d match people because there comes a point when you can only make so many phone calls, so we had to kind of automate some of that. We ask our driver to call the client a day before to make sure they’re on the same page, out of the 8,000 plus trips we’ve made, we’ve had very few missed appointments.”
In their first year, SAILDC has accrued 15 drivers, six of which are on their board, but currently only have 12 active clients. According to King, their highest month in trips, to date, was May with a total of 53 completed trips.
“The biggest problem for us is getting people that ask for help,” said King, “we have a lot of people that shouldn’t be driving, but God, they are and you can’t get them to say ‘I need help.’ We have plenty of drivers now that I’m not using near like I’d like to. I have more people I could put on as drivers instantly, it’s the clients that’s hard to get.”
The GVSS has 12 members on their board, in the last seven years, they have gained 80 volunteers, 40 of which are drivers. The other 40 volunteers help the clients with yard work, shoveling snow or other maintenance work. GVSS had a clientele of 188 and serve anywhere between 35-60 unique clients a month.
Although it make look successful now, both organizations have learned a lot.
King said that paying for the liability insurance to cover the drivers and even the additional services SAILDC offered was their biggest challenge. He also said the support and donations from the Dallas Center community helped immensely.
Brewer mentioned that a couple of the biggest things he discovered was that he couldn’t do everything and every community is different.
Brewer also had some advice for the Perry community.
“What you need to do if you’re going to create something in Perry is beg, borrow or steal anything (ideas) you can from anybody, but make it your own, because you have to have something that is going to fit the needs of Perry.”