“I do this because I want to, not because I have to,” said Neil Harris’s driver when he declined an offer of $10 for gas money. Dedicated to helping the Rangeley community, drivers from the Community Riders Program transport their customers wherever they might need to go, from grocery shopping to medical appointments, or into town.
The Community Rides program, introduced to the Rangeley Lakes region in April of this year, offers free rides to adults over 55 that are unable to drive themselves. Volunteer drivers do not receive any compensation or reimbursement, nor do they accept any tips that riders might offer. More recently, the program has expanded and serves riders in Stratton, Phillips, Avon, Salem, Carrabassett Valley, Kingfield, New Vineyard, Freeman Township, Madrid, and Mt. Abram Township.
“We have a small crew, and they’re committed, but we definitely would love to expand the circle” said Merrie Woodworth, the program coordinator. Currently, there are seven volunteers who happily dedicate their time and vehicles to help their neighbors get where they need to go.

Volunteer Mary Hembrow Leah Watson

Another benefit of the program has been the opportunity for people to connect. Mary Hembrow, one of the drivers for the program, said that the most enjoyable aspect is the one-on-one communication she has with the rider. “Everyone has different personalities,” said Hembrow, “we can help one another in different ways in a conversation.” In addition to meeting new people and building connections, Hembrow enjoys driving for the program because “It’s just downright heartwarming. It warms your soul.”

This system has proven to be more reliable than some ride services provided by health insurance. In some cases, people try to schedule a ride though their health insurance only to be informed that there are no drivers available. Community Rides acts as a supplemental program and the process is simple. “It’s really easy to do,” said Neil Harris. “I just call up and leave a message, or email.” Scheduling a ride requires at least a few days notice.

Aside from medical appointments, the Community Rides program brings riders wherever they wish in the Rangeley Lakes area. “If there is anything going on downtown, it would be nice to have somebody take you down there and sit and listen to the music” said Jean Nutile as she reflected on her riding experience with the Community Rides program.

An ongoing issue in Maine is the lack of access to reliable transportation. The Community Rides Program was designed to meet this demand in the Rangeley area. The program is especially helpful for people who may not have a support system to rely on.

Neil Harris is appreciative of the new Community Rides program.

Something as simple as giving a ride to someone in need can make a huge difference. “I have emphysema and I am on oxygen,” said Harris. “When I walk, it takes me a half an hour to get to Lakeside, when it should take me ten minutes… I wish I could walk but I can’t. I have the gumption, but my body won’t do it.”
This project is connecting people in the community and runs on the generosity of the drivers as well as support from the Maine Community Foundation and United Way of the Tri-Valley Area.

If you need a ride or are interested in becoming a driver:
Call (207) 778-5048 and press option 6 or you can email [email protected]

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