ITN Southern Delaware offers affordable, safe rides for seniors
For seniors in coastal Sussex County, hitching a ride from Point A to Point B can be a breeze with the transportation cooperative ITN Southern Delaware.
“This was borne out of an idea [Nancy Feichtl] had. She was approaching her senior years and wondered how she would get around. So she started exploring options for some kind of transportation options for seniors, because the alternatives are limited,” said Janis Hanwell, executive director of ITN Southern Delaware. “Through her research, she came across ITN America, a national nonprofit organization that provides transportation to seniors and adults with visual impairments.”
The Southern Delaware branch of ITN was begun in August 2015, with the first rides being provided on Dec. 1, 2015.
“At that time, we had 12, 15 active drivers and about 50 members. Today, we have close to 60 volunteer drivers and closer to 200 rider-members, said Hanwell, noting that the co-op surpassed 1,000 rides in December 2016.
“We’re getting calls every day. New members are coming in on a regular basis.”
ITN Southern Delaware is fully operational from Milford to Fenwick Island, and over to Selbyville and up to Georgetown. Those seeking transportation to medical-related appointments as far away as Dover, or Salisbury, Berlin, and Ocean City, Md., can also use the service.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers so we can expand those services. Our ultimate goal within our first five years is to be serving all of Sussex County.”
So how exactly does a transportation co-op work?
Members pay an annual fee — $40 for an individual or $70 for a household. Each rider pays a $2.50 pick-up fee and a per-mile fee of $1.25 from their account. Money is never exchanged between the driver and rider.
“We’re a cooperative, so people join by paying that annual membership fee, and then they put $50 into a personal transportation account,” explained Hanwell. “No money ever exchanges hands between the driver and the rider. The money is there until they need it.”
Members looking to supply their personal transportation account can also trade their car to ITN for the Blue Book value, and that money will go into their account.
ITN Southern Delaware offers rides seven days a week, anytime, day or night. Members call by noon the day before to schedule a ride and are assigned a volunteer driver who lives in their area.
All drivers must pass a criminal background check and use their personal vehicles, which must be insured. Riders may have portable collapsible wheelchairs, canes, walkers, etc.
“If riders have a personal-care assistant or a family member they want to go along with them, they may ride with at no extra charge,” added Hanwell. “We are also pet-friendly. We take service animals, like seeing-eye dogs. We have some members who want to take their pets in a carrier to the vet but have no way to get there. They can use our services to do that.”
The vast majority of the drivers in each ITN group across the country are women, said Hanwell, primarily in their 60s.
Hanwell said that, many times, the same driver and rider get matched up.
“What happens is these great friendships develop. We have members who are World War II veterans — one was a bomber pilot. We matched him up with one of our military drivers.”
Hanwell said that, currently, ITN Southern Delaware is working on having businesses and organizations partner with them, to help subsidize rides.
“We have various businesses in the area who are joining, and for their clients who use their services, the businesses will pay their pick-up fees. They subsidize their rides,” she said.
Lewes businesses Beach Tans & Hair Salon and Lady in Main are working with ITN Southern Delaware by paying for the pick-up cost of those traveling to their storefronts.
“For a round trip, that’s $5 off of their entire ride,” she said. “We have a ride service agreement with Westminster Church. They pay for the whole rides to church-related activities.
Hanwell said they have a ride service agreement with State Sen. Gerald Hocker for a grocery concierge service at his new Ocean View store.
Hanwell added that all members receive all eye-related trips for free, due to their Ride In Sight program, paid by Regeneron Pharmaceutical.
“We’re working with doctors’ offices and physical therapy offices, and other small businesses to join,” she said, noting that the businesses would contribute at least $300 to an account from which rides would be subsidized. “It’s catching on now.”
Hanwell said they are also trying to work with local developers who are building senior communities to, they hope, have the developer pay for the households’ memberships.
“They’re looking for ways to provide them some amenities for moving into their independent-living development and maintaining their independence and mobility for as long as possible, which is our goal.
“We’re also trying to establish a Rhodes Scholarship program, so that people living below the poverty level or who have special circumstances, they would receive a scholarship toward rides. They would receive $200 in their account to use toward whatever ride services they feel they need.”
Transportation is an essential service in Sussex County, Hanwell said, and ITN Southern Delaware is just one alternative for seniors looking to get around in a safe manner.
“Sussex County is the oldest-per-capita population in the country. That population is expected to triple in the next 15 years. Many people are retired here, and their adult children don’t come with them, so they don’t have family they can count on.
“Then there are other families that have been here all their lives but their children have moved away to find jobs in other areas. We’re just one alternative.
“Our slogan is, ‘Arm through arm, door through door.’ And that’s what we strive to provide.”
For more information about ITN Southern Delaware, or to become a member or volunteer driver, call (302) 448-8486 or visit www.ITNSouthernDelaware.org.