At Home in Somers, a local organization that helps seniors, will be putting the brakes on its ride-dispatching duties next month.

But members need not fear being left without a way to get to the doctor, grocery store or beauty parlor, said the nonprofit’s vice president, Faye DeSanto.

RideConnect, a not-for-profit program of Family Services of Westchester, and WestFair, a community based volunteer transportation service for older and visually impaired adults will be taking over that role after June 14.

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DeSanto said the change will actually benefit AHIS members because, combined, RideConnect and WestFair, can do everything it does “and more,” such as offer more free rides seven days a week and during the evenings.

According to RideConnect’s homepage, it also has a free bus service called The Weekly Shopper. The bus takes residents on shopping trips from The Mews in Baldwin Place (Somers) and other locations. Its schedule is set on a monthly basis.

At Home in Somers, which also hosts speakers, roundtable discussions and the occasional trip, charges folks an annual fee of $175. 

DeSanto said a decline in membership and the rising costs of liability insurance were behind the decision to hand off its ride dispatching duties.
At its peak, AHIS had 135 members, now there are about 80, she said. There are about 20 volunteer drivers and one paid ride coordinator/dispatcher.

DeSanto said she understood why some members may have been taken aback after hearing of the pending change.

“They know their drivers and the drivers know them,” she explained.

That is why, DeSanto said, AHIS is encouraging its current volunteer drivers to sign up, and its members to register, with RideConnect and WestFair.

Brochures describing WestFair and RideConnect services and application forms are available at the Heritage Hills activity center. Volunteers will also come to an individual member’s home and help them fill out the forms, she said.

For more information, contact Nancy Joyce, AHIS’ ride coordinator, at 914-719-2082.

Joyce said Monday she was disappointed that AHIS won’t be able to keep the ride program going.

“It’s a great service for the community,” she said.

Heritage Hills and the town itself do have buses. All of the town's vans and buses do door-to-door pickup and have wheel chair access. Information about the town's transportation is at somersny.com.

Joyce said she suggested that AHIS seek county, state or federal grants to support the program, but there didn’t appear to be much interest.

The volunteer drivers and the residents are all a great bunch of folks and, Joyce said she’s “sad to see it come to an end.”

Just like before, references for volunteer drivers will be checked and motor vehicle and criminal background screenings conducted by RideConnect and WestFair. It will be run in the same way, with seniors requesting rides and volunteer drivers choosing which rides to give and then calling the seniors.

LOOKING FORWARD

According to DeSanto, AHIS itself has not disbanded, but its leadership will be discussing the organization’s status as a nonprofit and other issues in the coming weeks.

The only thing that’s changing is that who is providing the dispatching of rides, she said.

“We don’t feel our membership will be losing anything because rides will still be free,” she said. WestFair and RideConnect “does all we’ve been doing, and more.”

One member expresses distress over the pending change to AHIS’ ride-dispatching program.

According to Zita Hanley, who lives in a senior development in Baldwin Place, RideConnect requires folks to call seven days in advance for a ride, and WestFair, three days ahead. WestFair only transports to medical appointments.

This would, she said, “put a large burden on our members.”

At the meeting where the change was announced, Hanley asked if the yearly fee would be refunded and was, she claimed, told “no.”

“They said they would continue until June 14. The balance of the years fee would go into their treasury,” Hanley said. “This constitutes half a year’s fee. I feel this is a complete injustice to us. We have some couples who paid double because both were using the convenience. Is this really helping neighbors?” 

DeSanto couldn’t speak directly to that issue, but said that anyone with similar complaints can contact AHIS leadership to discuss possible solutions.

“There are a lot of things we’re still trying to figure out,” she said.