After recovering from a heart attack almost four years ago, Wes Moores, of Columbia, couldn’t drive a vehicle anymore and needed a way to get to church and medical appointments.
Moore’s sister, who lives in Ellicott City, recommended Neighbor Ride, a Howard County based nonprofit that offers door-to-door rides to seniors who need them. Now Moores, 79, uses Neighbor Ride twice a week..
“They’ve never been late, [not] even one minute,” he said. “I have a thing about punctuality, so that impresses me.”
Riders must be Howard County residents and able to get in and out of a vehicle unassisted. Each trip, which can range from less than a mile to up to 35 miles, costs riders from $10 to $36 round trip. Passengers on limited incomes and veterans may qualify for subsidized rides via the nonprofit’s Good Neighbor Fund.
According to the nonprofit, more than 40% of rides are covered by the fund. Paid rides support funding for one full-time and three part-time staff members, cover maintenance fees for technology and fund volunteer driver training and a volunteer-manned call center in Columbia.
Neighbor Ride was founded in 2004 after research by the Howard County Department of Aging projected that the county’s senior population would double by the year 2020. The research also noted a need for transportation options as a top concern for older county residents.
Neighbor Ride aims to provide friendly, reliable and safe senior transportation options in the county, according to its website. During the past 18 years, the program has expanded to include a 13-member board of directors and 330 active volunteers. In the past year, the program served 650 riders making about 15,000 trips across Howard County.
The program is funded by corporate and individual donors. In June, Howard County General Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, announced it had donated $5,000 to Neighbor Ride. The program also recently received $2,555 from the Coalition of Geriatric Services and $2,000 from the Rotary Club of Columbia-Patuxent.
Funds support the program’s efforts to supply county seniors with transportation that helps them to stay connected to the people and activities that bring them joy and fulfillment, according to the nonprofit.
Patrice Cerwonka, program director at Neighbor Ride, said the program differs from for-profit ride-share companies such as Lyft or Uber because Neighbor Ride provides services specifically to people 60 and older.
“[We] really give [the riders] personalized service when they’re doing the scheduling and then we [give] a driver very specific notes about what type of vehicle the person needs depending on their mobility issues,” she said.
Neighbor Ride drivers are volunteers.
Farida Guzdar, 66, of Columbia, has volunteered as a driver for Neighbor Ride for about seven years. Now retired after working nearly two decades as assistant to the president at Howard Community College, she said she tries to complete a ride every day.
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Guzdar said she wanted to volunteer as a way to help older people in the county.
“I’m happiest when I’m helping folks and Neighbor Ride combines a couple of things that I love,” she said. “The people that I give rides to are always so grateful, and it feels good to be needed and feels good to help people.”
Moores said he his grateful that Neighbor Ride is available for seniors in the county.
“For me, transportation would be nonexistent if it weren’t for Neighbor Ride,” he said. “They supply me pretty much for any transportation I need, be it [to] the grocery store or the gas station or the hardware store, pretty much anywhere in Columbia.”
Prospective riders can register for the program by printing forms at neighborride.org or by calling 410-884-7433 to receive a registration packet by mail. Once registered, riders can use the online ride match portal or call at least three business days before a ride is needed.
First-time riders are required to deposit $45 into an account, $20 of which is a non-refundable registration fee.
Volunteer opportunities are available year around. Contact 410-884-7433 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information.