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Irma Hardy, of Columbia, walks to her home Oct. 30 as Steve Lockhart, a volunteer for Neighbor Ride, takes a few steps with her after dropping her off after her appointment. Hardy is depending on lifts from the nonprofit ride service for seniors three times a week for three months. Lockhart has volunteered twice a week for two and a half years.
Irma Hardy, of Columbia, walks to her home Oct. 30 as Steve Lockhart, a volunteer for Neighbor Ride, takes a few steps with her after dropping her off after her appointment. Hardy is depending on lifts from the nonprofit ride service for seniors three times a week for three months. Lockhart has volunteered twice a week for two and a half years. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

A large painting in the Columbia offices of Neighbor Ride depicts a smiling volunteer driver at the wheel of his car with transportation service co-founder Judy Pittman seated behind him.

Clinton Edwards, who provided 300 rides to Howard County seniors annually from 2014 until his retirement this year, is something of a legend at the nonprofit, which is marking its 15th anniversary with a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday that will double as a fundraiser.

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Edwards’ record of service and his friendly demeanor have combined to symbolize the humanitarian spirit of the organization, in which county residents ages 60 and older who are able to walk rely on the kindness of neighbors for free or low-cost transportation to medical appointments, social outings, shopping trips and faith-based activities.

Since it has been so successful, Neighbor Ride is considering expanding its mission.

The nonprofit will launch a pilot program at the end of January to test its ability to serve seniors who require wheelchair-accessible transportation — a need community activists have advocated for since the beginning.

“There’s always been a big awareness that this isn’t just about getting people from Point A to Point B,” said Colleen Konstanzer, who has served as the nonprofit’s community outreach coordinator from the outset.

Seniors are healthier and happier when they can get to where they need or want to be, she said, and volunteers reap the benefits of connecting with them.

Neighbor Ride — which has provided 175,000 trips since its inception in November 2004 — allows ambulatory seniors “to do the things that make them whole and lets them be who they are,” Konstanzer said.

Irma Hardy, of Columbia, gets out of the car Oct. 30 after Steve Lockhart, a volunteer for Neighbor Ride, drops her off after an appointment. Hardy depends on lifts from the nonprofit ride service for seniors three times a week for three months. "Neighbor Ride is like a godsend," Hardy said.
Irma Hardy, of Columbia, gets out of the car Oct. 30 after Steve Lockhart, a volunteer for Neighbor Ride, drops her off after an appointment. Hardy depends on lifts from the nonprofit ride service for seniors three times a week for three months. "Neighbor Ride is like a godsend," Hardy said. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Using a call-in and database system, the organization operates on a budget of $345,000 and is overseen by a full-time staff that includes Konstanzer, director Bruce Fulton and two ride coordinators who share one job.

Fulton likes to promote the service as a precursor to Uber and Lyft, but with more affordable fees. The rate schedule has seven tiers, ranging from $8 for a round trip of under 6 miles to $36 for a round trip of 40 to 70 miles.

“Our volunteers see this as a way of interacting directly with seniors,” he said, noting many regular drivers and riders form fast friendships. “We’re just the nudge that gets people to do what they already want to do.”

What began with 20 drivers making 535 trips has increased to 400 drivers and ride coordinators helping 750 riders take 17,200 trips to 1,000-plus destinations in fiscal 2019.

Just over half of the trips — 51% — are for medical care; 20% are for social outings; 12% are for volunteer, work and educational pursuits; 10% are for shopping; and 7% are for faith-based activities.

That data hasn’t gone unnoticed by other jurisdictions. Frederick and Harford counties have recently sent representatives to observe Neighbor Ride’s operations, Konstanzer said.

The growth is just the tip of the iceberg: It’s projected that Howard County’s senior population will increase at a faster rate than much of the state.

Between 2015 and 2030, Maryland’s 60 and older population is expected to increase 41% from 1.2 million to 1.7 million, according to the Maryland Department of Aging, Fulton said.

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In Howard County, however, a 62% increase is projected during the same 15-year period, climbing from 57,428 to 93,275, he said.

While anticipated — preliminary research of supplemental ride programs across the country in 2001 included a projection that the county’s senior population would double by 2020 — senior population growth has caused some recent growing pains.

For the first time in its history, Neighbor Ride operated at a deficit of $10,000 in fiscal 2019, Fulton said. For the 12-month period that ended June 30, 27% of income was from contributions and 39% from grants.

“In FY2020, we are projecting a $15,000 deficit as we work to structurally adjust our income streams,” Fulton said.

The financial need remains even as the size of county grants has steadily increased over the past four years, according to Megan Godfrey, manager of the county’s Community Service Partnership Program.

Records show county grants grew from $44,400 in fiscal 2016 to $67,000 in the current fiscal year, an increase of 50%, Godfrey said.

One of the reasons for the deficits is the growing number of riders whose income qualifies them for free trips, Fulton said.

Nearly a third of all trips in fiscal 2015 were provided at no cost; in fiscal 2019, that number rose to 45%, he said.

“More and more, we are serving the most vulnerable seniors,” Fulton said.

Pittman, who co-founded Neighbor Ride with five other county residents and devoted her career to human services, said 20 people worked on the concept for the transportation service for two or three years before it was launched.

One topic came up again and again, she said.

“More and more, we are serving the most vulnerable seniors.”


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“'What about people with disabilities?’ has literally been the question since day one,” Pittman said. “People really leaned on us about that, but there were equipment and liability issues” and the difficult decision was made to serve ambulatory seniors only.

Neighbor Ride is about to take a second look at revamping that policy.

In collaboration with Winter Growth, a Columbia-based organization that provides adult medical day care and assisted living for seniors, Neighbor Ride will launch a pilot program at the end of January using a specially equipped minivan called the Community Connector.

Passengers who registered with Neighbor Ride before Nov. 1 will be eligible for rides to medical appointments in the county only between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.

Richard Watson, a real estate agent who is president of Neighbor Ride’s board of directors, said that while the social impact of the service is obvious, the commercial impact of the transportation service cannot be overlooked.

“Providing rides helps reduce the cost to the medical field for missed appointments,” Watson said. “We get referrals from hospitals wanting to be sure patients take care of their health by keeping follow-up appointments” after medical procedures.

The county also saves money because Neighbor Ride negates some of the need for public transportation, he said.

“We’re working on finding more people to help and more volunteers,” Watson said, noting the organization wants to establish partnerships with faith-based organizations.

Steve Lockhart has volunteered twice a week for 2 1/2 years with Neighbor Ride, a nonprofit ride service marking its 15th anniversary.
Steve Lockhart has volunteered twice a week for 2 1/2 years with Neighbor Ride, a nonprofit ride service marking its 15th anniversary. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

“There’s still a cost to deliver rides, so we need financial and operational support.”

Jenna Crawley, administrator of the Howard County Office on Aging and Independence, said the nonprofit is making a real difference.

“Neighbor Ride addresses the county’s significant gap in access to transportation,” Crawley said.

Scheduling rides “requires the ability to be nimble and flexible” and the nonprofit excels at that, she said.

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Konstanzer said volunteers come to Neighbor Ride from many backgrounds.

Karen Gentle, who volunteers as a driver and as a ride coordinator, discovered the service when her father came from Ohio in 2012 to live with her. She was working full-time and he needed to get to physical therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

“After he passed away in 2014, I started driving to honor his memory,” Gentle said. “There are a million ways to grow old, but these seniors — many of whom want to be driven to the gym or to lunch with friends — are showing us how to live our best life.”

Andy Golden, an Ellicott City resident and research scientist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, volunteers as a driver on the weekends. Recently, however, he picked up a passenger at 6:30 a.m., drove her to a daylong medical appointment at NIH and took her back home at 4:30 p.m.

“Driving for Neighbor Ride is the perfect way to pay it forward,” Golden said.

Permitting seniors to retain a much-coveted sense of independence and helping them stay connected has physical and emotional benefits that send ripples of well-being out into the community, Pittman said.

“I think the reason Neighbor Ride is successful is that it’s very focused on one thing – getting seniors where they need and want to be,” she said. “The simplicity of sticking to a very specific purpose is the secret.”

Tickets to the 15th anniversary reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday are $15. The event will take place at Alta at Regency Crest, a senior apartment property at 3305 Oak West Drive in Ellicott City. For information or to donate, call 410-884-7433 or email community@neighborride.org.

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