Libraries and Communities Helping Seniors

Submitted by Jennifer Lindsey-Freese, Adult Services Librarian, Chili Public Library

In recent years, the Chili community (outside Rochester), where my library is located, has seen an increase in the number of seniors who are unable to find reliable transportation to doctor appointments, the library, social functions at the senior center, or church services. This is not an uncommon problem in many communities across the country. For the Towns of Chili and Gates, transportation has been regularly cited as one of the greatest needs for our elderly with mobility limitations. Many seniors are finding themselves unable to drive themselves due to poor health or financial constraints. Current public transportation in Monroe County is unable to provide freedom of movement for these folks because of costs, regulations or geographic location.

To combat this growing need, a local group created a volunteer-based ride sharing program called WestSide Express. This program pairs drivers with seniors who need rides to important appointments. This ambitious and much needed initiative was coordinated by Lifespan, of Greater Rochester, in partnership with the Chili Public Library, Chili Senior Center, Gates Public Library, Gates Recreation, and more than half a dozen churches of various denominations. As a result of these efforts, WestSide Express was launched in May 2015.

The WestSide Express transportation service is available to senior citizens living in the Towns of Gates and Chili. The service provides transportation to medical and dental appointments, libraries, senior center activities, banks, pharmacies, shopping, and hairdressers.

Our mission statement:
The mission of the WestSide Express Transportation Service is to provide safe, efficient and accessible transportation for residents of the Gates and Chili communities. It is our goal to address the complex and multifaceted mobility needs of the elderly in our area, with the purpose of improving their quality of life by providing non-emergency vehicular transportation.

We would not be successful without the group of dedicated volunteers who serve as drivers and dispatchers for our service. Volunteer drivers are the key to independence and safety for our older neighbors who are no longer able to drive. By providing rides to these seniors we are helping them live happier, healthier lives in their own homes.

In a recent survey that was conducted to assess WestSide Express’ service, some of our clients had this to say:

  1. “Life is a lot more enjoyable without the worry. My health is better than ever now that I can get the rides to important appointments.”
  2. “It has enabled me to go to P.T. which otherwise I would not have done. Also made it so much easier for me to obtain doctor appt. The drivers are so pleasant and I enjoy the socializing with them!”
  3. “I try to be at my best. Obviously this not always true. Your drivers realize this and with understanding, treat me with dignity and respect. I, therefore, am pretty comforted.”
  4. “Without Westside Express I'd probably have to move from my home.”
  5. “I love the service. Even if I'm not using it, it gave me a sense of security knowing they are available. It is a wonderful thing all of you are doing.”

I have been involved with this endeavor since the initial meeting in July 2014 to ascertain whether there was an interest for community organizations to create and support such a service. I very much enjoy doing outreach in my library’s community whenever possible and felt this was something that would really make a difference in the lives of people within our town. I was amazed at the number of churches and civic organizations that had an interest in this project as well. Since that first day, I have been on the Board for WestSide Express. I have the wonderful opportunity to meet monthly and work with a remarkable group of people from two neighboring communities.

Recently, WestSide Express celebrated its second anniversary. The committee celebrated by giving a breakfast in honor of our volunteer drivers and dispatchers. The WestSide Express coordinator, Robert Jackson, a deacon from a local church, spoke from the heart when he told our volunteers how much their time and efforts make a difference in the lives of seniors. From May 2016 to April 2017, WestSide Express has 34 active drivers, 10 dispatchers and about 180 clients. Our volunteer drivers gave 1,100 rides totaling 2,300 hours and drove about 29,000 miles in the last year.

Second Anniversary Breakfast - May 2017

Each of the participating towns has over 28,000 residents and our goal over the next year is to try to recruit more drivers and dispatchers so that we can assist the ever- growing need for rides. We also would like to be able to provide more than one ride per week to clients who need it, as we currently have to limit them to one trip a week.  We would like to eventually include more rides to religious services as part of our mission.

Unfortunately, since time does not allow me to be a driver at this point, my role consists of tasks behind the scenes. Over the last couple of years, I assisted the committee with drafting a mission statement and service policies. We have created detailed job descriptions required of our drivers and dispatchers and held instructional classes for training new volunteers. The committee was able to establish a dedicated workspace for the dispatchers and collaborated with individuals from our Town’s technology department to get a dedicated phone line and computer installed in our Senior Center. With Microsoft Publisher, I created brochures, stationary, surveys and necessary administrative forms. We worked with a graphic designer to have a unique logo created for our organization. Annually, I have created and compiled the results of surveys, written articles to be included in library, community and church publicity. We are in a constant need of drivers for this ever-growing service and I assist in trying to actively recruit volunteers by going out into the community. We have set up tables at the local YMCA and various festivals to promote the WestSide Express. Recently, we set up a booth at our town’s annual summer celebration, Chil-E Fest. By being present during this event, we were able to recruit two new drivers and spread the word about this service to those who were unaware of our existence.

WestSide Express booth at the Chil-E Fest - July 2017

Being a part of this organization since its inception has given me an immense sense of pride, as well as a way to promote the library beyond our physical walls. It has helped me feel like I am doing something positive for the people in our town. We are demonstrating that the library is not just a place for books, movies, and computers, but that we care about the people we serve and want to give back in any way we can. It has also given me the ability to meet and collaborate with some community, civic and religious leaders I may not have otherwise crossed paths with. Most importantly our work helps ensure that those seniors in need can stay connected to their neighborhood and remain independent in their homes for as long as possible.

WestSide Express Committee Members, Drivers and Dispatchers - May 2017

Jennifer Lindsey-Freese has been an adult services librarian at the Chili Public Library outside Rochester, New York for almost 15 years. She has worked in public libraries since she was 16 years old. She began her career as a children’s librarian and in recent years, made the transition to adult services and programming. She enjoys working with people of all ages and going out into the community to encourage people to use the library. Outside the library, Jennifer enjoys reading, fitness, crafts, Civil War reenacting and antiquing. She resides in the Town of Greece with her husband, two sons and a daughter, and two rambunctious cats, Cheeto and Kiwi.