SPIRIT OF GIVING: Contoocook Valley Transportation Company
The drive to help neighbors
Regional nonprofit offers transportation for those in need
Marsha Gibson, seated,the Contoocook Valley Transportation Center's volunteer driver coordinator, and CVTC Executive Director Ellen Avery look over the organization's online driver roster and trip schedule. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Pat Egan, left, and Mary Lodge get out of a car at the Bond Wellness Center in Peterborough, after getting a ride to their exercise class through the Contoocook Valley Transportation Company, which offers free rides to residents who are unable to drive to medical appointments or other essential needs. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Volunteer driver Ruth Lambert of Peterborough holds the door of her car as passenger Mary Lodge adjusts her seat belt. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Pat Egan, left, and Mary Lodge, center, outside the Bond Wellness Center after getting a ride to an exercise session from Ruth Lambert, right, a volunteer driver for the Contoocook Valley Transportation Company. The three women say they have become good friends during their twice-weekly rides together. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Life can be tough in the Monadnock region for someone who doesn’t drive or can’t afford a car. With public transportation nonexistent, people can find themselves scrambling to line up a friend, relative or church member if they need to get to a doctor’s appointment or even to a grocery store. That’s where the Contoocook Valley Transportation Company comes in. The Peterborough-based nonprofit organization matches volunteer drivers with residents in need of transportation for medical appointments, shopping and other essential services. Last year, those volunteers gave 115 people more than 1,600 free rides, driving a total of 71,397 miles.
“It’s not just the rides. We’re really about hope, both for our riders and their families,” says Ellen Avery, the CVTC’s executive director. “We’re about enhancing or sustaining people’s well-being and about independence.”
While many of the CVTC riders are elderly or disabled, the organization serves anyone without a vehicle who needs transportation for medical needs or other necessities.
“The need is incredible. So many people are between a rock and a hard place,” says Volunteer Driver Program Coordinator Marsha Gibson. “We take a lot of people shopping or to the food bank. We take many people to [Monadnock Community] hospital or the Bond Wellness Center for treatments or therapy. Last year, we drove more than 10,000 miles to and from the hospital.”
Avery and Gibson say the rides have made a difference in the lives of many riders. Gibson tells of one man who had significant emotional issues that required him to go first to legal appointments and later for medical and therapy treatments five days a week.
“He’s doing well now, but I still recall his exact words — ‘I’d probably be dead [without the rides],’” Gibson says.
Avery remembers getting a call from a woman who was desperate.
“She said ‘My husband just left me and he took the car. I have four kids, all with medical appointments.’ We were able to help her.”
Gibson uses a web-based software program called Triplist to coordinate rides. Last week, she had 115 trips posted for the month of December. Riders are asked to request a trip posting at least five days in advance, and Gibson will talk to riders to confirm the necessity for the trip.
“We don’t give people a ride to the hairdresser,” she says. “We don’t turn anyone away, but I try to determine why they aren’t driving.”
She’ll often try to arrange a ride so a person can go to a grocery store or bank as well as to a medical appointment, and she tries to set up ride-sharing programs. Monadnock Community Hospital, she says, has been very helpful in coordinating appointments of people who need rides, so she can often have more than one rider on a trip to the hospital. The hospital also gives CVTC drivers coupons for free coffee while they wait during a rider’s appointment.
On Friday, volunteer driver Ruth Lambert of Peterborough and riders Pat Egan and Mary Lodge, who both live in Jaffrey, talked about the program as they went to the Bond Wellness Center, where Egan and Lodge attend an exercise program.
Lambert, who is retired after 30 years working at Millipore in Jaffrey, volunteered after meeting Avery at a community dinner.
“I was spending way to much time watching TV and sitting on the couch,” she said. “Now I drive these two ladies twice a week. While they’re inside, I usually take a walk around the parking lot. I drove a woman from Greenville to Nashua for chemo seven or eight times. I’ve picked up a young man from New Ipswich and driven him to [Franklin Pierce University]. Everybody that you drive is so appreciative. They say, if it wasn’t for people like you, we’d never get out.”
Neither Egan nor Lodge is able to drive, so they have come to rely on the regular CVTC ride.
“This is the best thing,” Lodge said. “It gets me out of the house. They’ll help you do anything you need.”
“I just love Ruth,” Egan said. “We have a good little time here. I trust her completely with my life.”
Lodge and Egan didn’t know each other until the shared ride was arranged, but they’ve become good friends.
“Now we’re joined at the hip,” Egan said.
Gibson has a roster of about 35 active drivers who drive at least once a month. Drivers can log in to the Triplist to sign up for a trip, and they are asked to confirm the trip themselves with the rider the night before. If no driver signs up, Gibson notifies riders a couple of days before the scheduled trip so that other plans can be made.
While Gibson and Avery say less than 5 percent of the ride requests can’t be filled, but it’s sometimes a challenge to keep up. So far, drivers have signed up for about half of those 115 December trips.
“We just don’t have enough drivers to keep up with the demand,” Gibson says. “I’m always looking for more people.”
Drivers donate their time and use their own vehicles. They can receive mileage reimbursement of 41 cents a mile through N.H. Department of Transportation grant funds. Some drivers don’t ask for mileage, especially for shorter trips.
“Last year, we reimbursed about 79 percent of trips,” Avery says. “This year it’s a little higher.”
“One driver has asked for reimbursement, then she writes us a check for the amount,” Gibson says.
Volunteer drivers get intangible benefits as well.
“Most of them are retired. Some are alone,” Avery says. “We have a new volunteer who had just moved to the area when her husband died. She volunteered to drive, and now she’s out of the house. She’s doing something for someone else. It’s a win-win for both riders and drivers.”
“I have a couple of drivers who always sign up for the same people,” Gibson says. “There are relationships that are built.”
CVTC also has a Monadnock Rideshare program, which encourages carpooling to work and offers a place for people to post a listing if they need a ride.
Avery says funding to support a part-time coordinator for Rideshare was cut earlier this year.
“It’s in a kind of hiatus right now. We basically provide the infrastructure for people to connect, and that’s it.”
CVTC was founded in 2008 and started offering rides in 2010. The organization serves the towns of Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Greenville, Hancock, Jaffrey, New Ipswich, Peterborough, Rindge, Sharon and Temple. Much of the funding, including money for mileage reimbursements, come through federal transit funds channeled through the N.H. Department of Transportation. Support also comes through the Monadnock United Way program, foundations and individual donations. And nine of the 13 towns contribute either $250 or $500 every year at March town meetings.
“One town has had only one rider, but they still support us,” Gibson says. “It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
Avery and Gibson say they enjoy the interaction they have with riders, even those they only know through phone conversations.
“This job makes us so grateful for what we have,” Gibson says. “You appreciate the success stories. One driver went to pick up a man for a doctor’s appointment and found it had been canceled. But he said, ‘I haven’t eaten in three days. Can you take me to the food bank?’ She knew exactly where to go. We’re proud when we’re able to help.”
“And we want people to know we’re here to help,” Avery adds.
The Contoocook Valley Transportation Company can be contacted by calling 877 428-2882 or going online at www.cvtc-nh.org.