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Mendon Senior Van Critical to So Many

When Mendon resident Dorothy Leighton had her heart attack a year ago, it was essential for her to travel to Milford for cardiac rehab. The only way that was possible was through the Senior Center's van. "Thank god for the van," said Leighton. "I relied on it quite a bit."

According to Senior Center Director Amy Wilson Kent, stories like these are not unusual and the fact that van provides thousands of rides each year to seniors and the disabled illustrates just how critical it is to so many of Mendon's residents.

The good news for these residents is that very shortly they will be riding around in a new van. In June, the Council on Aging received notification from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that it was awarded a grant that will cover 80 percent of the funding to purchase a new van. And thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Mendon Elders, the remaining 20 percent was raised. The van is expected to arrive in August or September.

As part of the grant's stipulations, a Transportation Advisory Group had to be formed to oversee the needs of the van and help to improve additional access needs. Mendon's group is comprised of clientele who utilize the van and include James Blevins, Marjory Blevins, Dorothy Leighton, Beverly Mathewson, Roger Moore, and Karen Walker. Community Liaison Kevin Rudden, Council on Aging Board member Earl Pearlman, and Wilson Kent also serve.

According to Rudden, everyone assumes that seniors can drive or have a family member or friend available to take them to appointments or on errands but that's just not the case.

As a result, for many seniors or disabled individuals, their options are very limited.

"We (Mendon) don't have public transportation," said Pearlman. "Many would have to pay out of pocket for a taxi without the van." Many seniors are on fixed incomes and cannot afford the extra expense.

Karen Walker said she relied on the van to take her to physical therapy after surgery. Afterward, she was so grateful for the service that she was inspired to volunteer at the Senior Center. "I wanted to give back," she said.

Many clientele also use the van to run errands and take them to programs at the Senior Center or elsewhere. Without it, many would remain homebound. "Their independence would be taken away," said Rudden.

As the senior population in Mendon continues to grow, requests for rides are also on the rise. In 2009, 1,518 rides were given and in 2010 that number increased to 2,182. According to the latest census information, from 2000 to 2010, Mendon's senior population grew from 608 to 939, or 54 percent. Projections show that over the next five to ten years, the senior population is expected to increase another 50 percent.

Because the need is so strong, the Advisory Group must also research additional transportation uses for the new van. According to Blevins, weekend rides to church would help out many. Blevins stated her son is disabled and would enjoy getting out to church regularly if he had the opportunity, saying, "It would help to improve his quality of life."


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