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Neighbor Ride marks milestone in giving lifts [Senior Circles]

What a huge milestone! Neighbor Ride, a volunteer-driven nonprofit, launched in 2004, which provides transportation services to Howard County seniors, reached its 100,000th trip May 14.

The lucky pair on the 100,000th Neighbor Ride trip was volunteer driver Wendy van Antwerp, of Columbia, and her passenger Bettie Panagakos, of Ellicott City. Neither had any idea that they would be part of this big event in Neighbor Ride's history.

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"It was unbelievable; I was shocked," Bettie said. Wendy thought it was wonderful to be a part of meeting this milestone and said, "The fun part for me, was seeing my passenger's reaction. She was thrilled, telling everyone she was famous!"

Wendy and Bettie's involvement in the 100,000th trip was the luck of the lists. Both names just came up on the driver and passenger lists for this particular trip.

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Wendy's pickup was at Selborne House of Dorsey Hall, in Ellicott City, where Bettie lives. That's where Neighbor Ride surprised them with a banner celebrating the 100,000th trip.

I had interviewed Wendy once before for a column on volunteerism from the volunteer's point of view ("Volunteering brings happiness – to the volunteers," Feb. 5, 2015). I knew that she volunteered as a driver with Neighbor Ride to honor her mother's memory. When Wendy's mother was alive, there was no transportation service for seniors like Neighbor Ride. Wendy provided her transportation.

It was especially fitting for Wendy that this 100,000th pickup was at Selborne House of Dorsey Hall. Wendy's mother had lived there for a short time before her death. Her mother was one of the original residents at Selborne House and so was Bettie. Even though Bettie and Wendy's mother didn't know each other, Selborne House provided a connection between Wendy and Bettie.

Wendy drives for Neighbor Ride at least two times a week and is a substitute ride coordinator with them usually twice a month. She is establishing a new group of passengers to drive because the living conditions of two or three of her previously regular riders have changed and they are no longer arranging rides.

"The number of rides Neighbor Ride handles is staggering," Wendy said. She has the utmost respect for all the men and women who volunteer at and staff Neighbor Ride. She said that there are such caring, wonderful people at this nonprofit and she is honored to be associated with the organization.

Bettie Panagakos, age 87, soon to be 88 in August, uses Neighbor Ride's transportation services quite frequently, especially for doctor's appointments and to get out of the house to shop. She has had four or five drivers and she said, "They are all so wonderful." She has children who could help her with transportation but she likes to be as independent as she can and Neighbor Ride offers her that alternative since she had to give up driving two years ago for health reasons. She keeps telling the residents at Selborne House to take advantage of Neighbor Ride.

As advice to Howard County seniors, Bettie said, "If you need reliable transportation service, Neighbor Ride is the one to get. It is economical; the fares are based on how far you go." Her doctor's visit costs her $6 round trip.

If you are no longer driving, you don't have to feel isolated where you live. Take advantage of Neighbor Ride for trips to health care appointments, cultural and social outings, volunteer activities, fitness, educational pursuits, religious services, shopping and other day-to-day needs. There is no need to give up all the things you did when you were driving. The only qualifications are that you be a Howard County senior, age 60 and over, and be able to independently get in and out of a vehicle. To request a ride, call 410-884-RIDE (7433).

There is a growing demand for transportation for seniors and more volunteer drivers are needed. Requirements for drivers include: Must be 21 years of age or older; have an interest in working with seniors; pass both criminal history and driving record checks (less than three points on driver's license); and be capable of maintaining client confidentiality. If interested in volunteering as a driver, call 410-884-RIDE (7433) or volunteer@neighborride.org.

With now over 100,000 trips under its belt, I would say that Neighbor Ride has surpassed its "goal of decreasing isolation and improving the quality of life for Howard County's older residents." In surveys, over 99 percent of Neighbor Ride passengers report that the service has a positive impact on their quality of life.

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