EWE Spirit Grant Recipient Story:
Carol Richardson moved to the U.S. for love. During her courtship with her husband, she
traveled to and from her native Jamaica frequently. He convinced her to move permanently to
the States in 1998. Years later, his health deteriorated due to Alzheimer’s, and he had to move
into an assisted living facility. By then, Carol was struggling with her own health issues: spinal
problems and multiple brain aneurysms. Her doctors prohibited her from walking to the bus
stop, and her medications made it unsafe to drive. So, she paid $100 per trip to visit her
husband by taxi—until she learned about Neighbor Ride six years ago.
Neighbor Ride is a nonprofit organization that connects volunteer drivers to Howard County, Maryland, residents over the age of 60. As many as 12 times per month, a client can book rides ahead of time to any destination within 35 miles. Volunteer coordinators schedule rides
between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., 365 days a year. Drivers must have good safety records, pass background checks, and undergo training. All rides are subsidized. As many as 40% are provided at no cost, based on clients’ ability to pay. Those who do pay for rides enjoy rates between $10 and $36 per round trip—significantly more affordable than cabs and 35% to 45% of the cost of commercial rideshare programs.
Thanks to Carol’s husband’s successful career as a professor, she was able to pay the Neighbor Ride fees for a while. He eventually needed to be transferred into a full-time nursing facility. “That turned out to cost much more than I imagined,” she says. “But he would have done this for me, so I did it for him.” She exhausted their savings quickly, and, because of her medical conditions, was not able to work. She lost her home and ended up in a shelter. All of her family are still in Jamaica, so she has no support network.
That’s when Neighbor Ride informed Carol that she qualified for free rides. “I was
flabbergasted!” she says. She uses the service primarily for medical appointments, but also for
grocery shopping, trips to the pharmacy and occasional visits to the hairdresser. After her spine surgery, the volunteer drivers even accompanied her into the supermarket to help push the shopping cart and bend over to reach items on lower shelves. “They’re very nice people,” she says. “They are genuinely concerned about you. These people care!”
Sadly, Carol’s husband recently passed away. The happy couple had planned to retire in
Jamaica. Carol now lives in government-subsidized housing, which she can just barely afford.
Because of her challenging health and tight budget, she isn’t able to fly to visit family. Even so,
she continues to share her vibrant spirit and gratitude with Neighbor Ride volunteers.
Howard County is primarily suburban and lacks convenient mass transit, so many seniors like
Carol need Neighbor Ride’s services. Most clients can no longer drive or have no access to a
vehicle. Some have only a temporary need, for example, for physical therapy visits, dialysis or
cancer treatments. Neighbor Ride currently has more than 1,500 enrolled clients, 320 volunteer drivers and 16 ride coordinators. The average driver provides 32 rides to seniors per year. The volunteer ride coordinators donate as many as 22,000 total hours per year—filling 96% of ride requests. This results in nearly 15,000 annual trips and deliveries.
One of the primary draws, for both clients and drivers, is the social interaction, to which Carol
happily attests: “I meet people of all age groups, in different parts of life. Nobody’s pouting
about the weather or taxes. And they’re all very good, safe drivers.”
Volunteer drivers love providing this assistance to their neighbors, says Executive Director
Bruce Fulton. “There’s something about just the act of opening a car door for someone,” he
says. “They literally see how impactful the ride is for someone and how appreciative the clients
are.” Drivers often recruit other friends and neighbors to volunteer, he adds. “We have
townhouse and condo complexes where we start with one driver and all of a sudden have five.” While drivers use their own cars, Neighbor Ride offers fuel reimbursement. “But only five to ten volunteers request it regularly—even with these crazy gas prices,” says Bruce. “Our volunteers are amazing!”
EWE Spirit Foundation was proud to support Neighbor Ride recently with a $10,000 grant. This is exactly the type of service that Geoff gladly would have offered his own neighbors and
friends. He’d be so glad to know that we’re helping people like Carol Richardson, who still
grieves for a husband she loved as deeply as Geoff loved Mary.