Nelson Major, left, Paul Lemay and William “Jake” Jacobs are volunteer drivers for Community Concepts. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — During a recent volunteer shift, William “Jake” Jacobs drove from Oxford to Damariscotta, then to Kingfield, Skowhegan, and from Rumford to Bethel.

As a volunteer driver for Community Concepts, which provides free rides to some of the most vulnerable members of the community, the 74-year-old averages about 300 miles per day. He drives a 2007 Toyota Avalon that has 445,000 miles on it.

The retired paper mill worker drives five days a week, normally from about 5 to 10 a.m., but sometimes longer.

Jacobs is one of about 40 volunteer drivers who take clients anywhere, from medical appointments like cancer treatment and dialysis, to family visitations and the grocery store.

In response to a query for this year’s “Mainers to Be Thankful For” series, the Sun Journal received a comment calling the volunteer drivers “unsung heroes” and “a lifeline for the community.”

“They show up every day knowing that people count on them,” it said.

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Nelson Major of Mechanic Falls retired 12 years ago from Western Maine Transportation, which operates buses including Lewiston-Auburn’s Citylink transit service.

Major, now 78, said he is “thankful to be able to serve some of the people who really need” the ride service. “It’s a privilege at my age to be able to do this. It keeps me younger.”

He said the drivers serve a large elderly population, many of whom “have no other way” to get to appointments or the grocery store.

When speaking to the Sun Journal, Major was about to head to Portland to take someone to West Bath.

Paul Lemay, a Lewiston native, began driving in 2014 when he retired as a way to “get out of the house.”

“I love it. It keeps me busy, and I give back to the community,” he said.

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The volunteer drivers are reimbursed for mileage. They sometimes log long hours, and due to Maine’s size, they rack up the miles.

Lemay, 62, used to work at Bates Mill in Lewiston prior to its closure. Every once in a while, he’ll come across someone who speaks French, and uses it as an opportunity to brush up. He said he’s given rides to people ranging from less than a year old to those in their 90s.

“Everybody’s got a story,” he said. “I’m not judgmental. Times weren’t always rosy. I had to use Community Concepts years ago. I learned that everyone’s got a particular reason why they’re in this situation.”

Lemay said the pandemic hasn’t changed much about the gig, except for wearing a mask in the car. He also said this spring, there was a big lull due to most appointments being canceled.

Jacobs, of Livermore Falls, has been driving for four years. He said it’s an important program, and that some interactions with clients leave permanent memories.

Specifically, he said, spending time with children on their way to see paternal parents from foster care, or vice versa.

“I’ve had days that I’ve had tears in my eyes,” he said. “I go home and hug my grandkids. It makes you appreciate the things you do have.”

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