Some of the best days are when your employee calls in sick.
In my early days of nonprofit work, my motto was “never take on anything you can’t complete yourself.” Events were scaled to what I could set-up, run, and clean up on my own, just in case help did not arrive. More times than I can count, help arrived by more than I could ever hope. And little by little, ElderPoint Ministries grew, focused on providing senior transportation and nutrition, when and where they need us. These days, I am in awe of the team around me: four staff members and seven drivers who are wonderful, dedicated and kind people devoted to improving the quality of life of seniors in our community.
This growth means my role has changed dramatically over the years. From my original volunteer work creating a software application for the organization and wishing I could cut the grass with my push mower, I became executive director. I learned to write grants, manage federal contracts, develop and re-develop programs that address critical senior needs — all while innovating sustainability. I have shifted to more desk work than hands- on service delivery. Senior transportation is a complicated business!
Until a driver calls in sick while another is on a mission trip. Then I get to drive. I only had three clients that day. Three wheelchair bound folks who use our service regularly. Names I recognize, but people I had never met.
On the road
Beth was first with an early morning outing to a local coffee shop to meet her friend, who just happens to also be one of our outstanding Board members. Beth’s natural chatty and sweet personality made the ride all the better, as she explained the importance of our service in her life. A professional writer and artist, she clearly is independent and cherishes the ability to determine her own routine for the day. Coffee with a friend or swimming at Gandy pool to keep her body and mind reinvigorated, her day is her own.
Though I would have loved to stay for coffee, it was on to my second client, a family that actually has two wheelchair-bound members. Just a quick trip to the dentist, just over a mile from their south side home, but it was an appointment that would run more than twice the time expected. It meant a few things got juggled around, returning Beth home before they were ready to leave the dentist. Eventually, we got everyone settled, and I was off to my last ride.
I headed north to the Hollis Cancer Center to pick up the last couple for the day. They were taking in a little extra sunshine while I made my way, happy to have a little peace and quiet after treatment. This sweet couple were a bit weary from the day’s events, and we rode along pleasantly listening to soft music as we made our way to Winter Haven. It was a bit of a trek, and they were happy to be home. Their son met us in the driveway to help get dad in the house, and from the crazy barking coming from inside, I would say he wasn’t the only one glad they were home.
As I headed back to Lakeland, I could say these are the best days at the office. Just as Beth is flexing her muscles at the pool, I am again flexing my service muscles to experience the significance of what ElderPoint Ministries provides. By other means, these rides would cost nearly $100 for the local trips and possibly double for the trip out to Winter Haven. ElderPoint charges just $1.50 per mile, and while that adds up on a long trip, it doesn’t come close to the premiums charged for wheelchair rides. While many clients have families to help, those family members often work during the times client’s need transportation. ElderPoint delivers independence and social time, while filling a need.
I am back at the desk. My drivers are all back at work, healthy and happy. Our clients like having what I call “The A Team” back in place — familiar faces to take them where they need to go. Now it is back to my “real” job, creating sustainability, so these folks can continue to have a quality life.
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