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story.lead_photo.caption Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista Harrison Ramey, Charlotte Champagne and Allen Lovell are drivers for the Courtesy Van of Bella Vista. All three find the volunteer job rewarding and fun. The program is looking for a few more drivers.

Every weekday, two white vans leave the Highlands Crossing parking lot en route to doctor's offices and beauty salons. The vans enable some Bella Vistans to stay in their own homes in the face of medical issues. The Bella Vista Courtesy Van program has been going strong for over 25 years.

There are other transportation programs that help low-income seniors, but Courtesy Van doesn't ask about income. It can help any adult who needs a ride because of a disability even if it's a temporary disability.

In the 12 month period that ended with September 2018, the vans traveled 64,735 miles, providing 4,100 rides. Most of the rides were to medical appointments, but there were also trips to the store and the beauty salon. Usually, the organization has about 300 clients who need its services, although not every day.

It takes about 50 drivers who drive one or two days a month to keep the vans going but, right now, there are only about 35 available, board member Louween Schoenhard said. More volunteers are needed.

"It's very rewarding," volunteer driver Harrison Ramey said. "You get to meet a lot of interesting people."

"It's a good way to learn your way around Bella Vista," Allen Lovell said.

Drivers use a GPS, and sometimes the advice of their passengers because, in Bella Vista, the GPS route isn't always the best route. They will drive as far north as the Jane Walmart and as far south as Mercy Hospital in Rogers.

Drivers don't need a special license, although they do need a decent driving record for the insurance company, Schoenhard said. And they have to be under 77 years old. Even their best drivers have to stop when they turn 77 because of the insurance regulations, she said.

"I met a lady from South Africa," driver Charlotte Champagne said. "We laughed the entire time."

Her passenger was telling her about Arkansas phrases she didn't understand.

"I can't wait to pick her up next time."

It's not unusual for the passengers to be very talkative, Ramey said. Often he finds himself driving people who have little chance to socialize and they enjoy talking to the driver. In fact, if passengers are asked to travel out of the way to pick up another passenger, they usually like the idea. They like seeing the scenery and talking to whoever the next passenger turns out to be.

The drivers decide the logistics each day, Champagne said. Schedulers answer the phone and write down all the details on individual cards. When the drivers arrive at 7:45 each morning, they take the cards and decide how the pickups will go. Most rides are two ways, but the van doesn't necessarily wait. Once a passenger is dropped off, the van goes on to the next passenger and then returns. That means that there's often some waiting. The passengers don't seem to mind. Occasionally, there are unexpected stops. For instance, if the passenger needs to pick up a new prescription. The drivers do their best to fill all requests.

When it's the driver who needs to wait, Champagne takes advantage of the time to fit in a quick walk.

Sometimes even the best plans go awry and the drivers call each other for help.

Every driver is trained and there's not often a reason to substitute, Schoenhard said. But drivers do have to be able to push a wheelchair up the ramp into the van. If they can't handle a wheelchair, they can become schedulers and work in the office.

Courtesy Van is a free service, although many of the passengers donate. It is a nonprofit with an annual operating budget of about $39,000. The funds come from donations, including grants and a large donation from the Cooper Charity Classic Golf Tournament each year. Its volunteers also run their own golf tournament each summer. Churches and some businesses also donate, Schoenhard said.

For more information or to volunteer, call Bill Puskus at 402-981-1571.

General News on 08/07/2019

Print Headline: Ride service needs drivers

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