By Karen Billing
Senior transportation services will finally cater to older adults in Carmel Valley, after the SANDAG board of directors approved funding for the “Rides and Smiles” program on Feb. 25. Brenda Bothel, director of transportation at JFS, said the rides should be available by fall and possibly by summer.
While shuttles and other senior transportation programs serviced neighboring communities such as Rancho Penasquitos and Del Mar, none would pick up seniors in Carmel Valley. That is until Dr. Julie Saltman, a 86-year-old Carmel Valley resident, decided to “raise a rumpus” last year.
After doing months of research on senior transportation services she went to the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board in February 2010 to plead her case. She was then hooked up with City Council member Sherri Lightner, who took on the issue and began the quest for funding.
Saltman said she kept pushing and pushing the issue over the last several months, admitting she often sent Lightner’s office e-mails with the subject line “So….?”
Lightner said she received those emails and more from Carmel Valley seniors and worked with the planning board to make the request to SANDAG on behalf of the community.
“I’m absolutely delighted and I hope we live long enough to see it happen,” Saltman said when finding out that the funding was finally approved.
“Rides and Smiles” is run by Jewish Family Services and will provide transportation to seniors and people with disabilities. The individual rides will have to be ordered a week in advance with a suggested donation of $5 and up to the volunteer drivers, depending on their destination.
“Having access to this program is very important for Carmel Valley seniors and I look forward to working with Jewish Family Services to help enlist volunteers for this program,” Lightner said.
Bothel said they will soon start engaging the Carmel Valley community to recruit those volunteer drivers.
“We want to partner with the community and really have neighbors helping neighbors,” Bothel said.
Saltman said she and her husband, who is in his 90s, still drive but there will come a time when they can’t pass the vision or written test and because there is no public transportation in Carmel Valley they would be stuck.
To no longer be able to live independently would be “like a death sentence,” Saltman said, and that was her purpose for getting involved, for pushing the issue not just for herself but for seniors who are already at the point where they cannot drive.
“There are a lot of people here who are eagerly waiting for this news. I know it’s going to take a few months to get started but at least it is going to begin and we don’t have to worry about moving out of our houses,” Saltman said. “We can stay in our house if we have a way to get around.”
Bothel said once they get a ridership base going in Carmel Valley, there is the possibility of JFS’ shuttle service, On the Go, to begin serving the area as well.
To find out more about Rides and Smiles or learn about volunteer opportunities, visit jfssd.org.