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Friday, May 6, 2016

Senior Helpmate drivers may be back on the road

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jim Thelen, of Le Mars, enjoys helping people who can't drive remain independent by giving them rides. Thelen and his wife, Aggie, were volunteer drivers for Plymouth County Senior Helpmate. The program suspended operations at the end of April. Paperwork to put drivers back on the road in the next few weeks was completed Monday.
The Plymouth County Senior Helpmate door-to-door transportation service ended about a month ago.

One of the first steps needed to re-start the transportation service was taken Monday, according to Cheryl Palmer, of Plymouth County Senior Helpmate.

Palmer is heading the program which matches volunteer drivers with persons 60 years and older or people suffering from a debilitating condition who have a destination, but no way to reach it.

An application was made Monday for the transportation service in Plymouth County to be designated as a 501(c)(3) organization, Palmer said.

The designation is commonly used to describe a charitable organization.

Previously, Plymouth County Senior Helpmate had used the 501(c)(3) designation of the Senior Center for Active Generations, of Sioux City, and had bookkeeping services from the group.

The Sioux City organization ended the relationship with Senior Helpmate at the end of April.

That meant donations could not be accepted by Senior Helpmates because the group lost its tax-exemption, Palmer said.

The change in the relationship with the Sioux City group ended rides to appointments with doctors for people such as Ruth Salvatierra, of Akron.

"I haven't driven for over five years," she said. "I cancelled one appointment I had because there was no way I could afford to pay to go to Sioux City and back for what private people might ask for a ride."

Jim Thelen, of Le Mars, and other volunteer drivers for the program were reimbursed mileage through the Senior Helpmate program.

He said has driven people to doctors appointments, to banks, grocery shopping and to hospitals, dentists and Veterans Affairs health care facilities in Omaha, Neb., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Both Thelen and his wife, Aggie, were volunteer drivers for Senior Helpmate.

"In my personal opinion, it's the greatest organization for seniors in the country," he said.

Thelen estimates he's traveled 80,000-90,000 miles as a volunteer for the senior transportation program in the past 10 years.

Drivers like Thelen offered an average of a ride a day through Senior Helpmate, Palmer said.

There are other transportation services in the county, but some senior citizens can't afford the costs due to their fixed incomes, according to Palmer.

"It's (Senior Helpmate) not as expensive because it's a donation," she said.

Senior Helpmate heard from clients who were very concerned about the loss of the drivers who got them to appointments, Palmer said.

"We have several that are concerned, along with their case workers as to how they're going to get to their doctor appointments," she said.

The transportation was probably 75 percent appointment-related and 25 percent for grocery shopping and banking, Palmer said.

"We went door to door and walked clients to the car and into where they were going and we help them with groceries and things like that," Palmer said.

Salvatierra is one of the people the Thelens offered their volunteer transportation services to.

"They've been very good to me," Salvatierra said. I"ve made a few friends in the faithful drivers like the Thelens."

She said the Le Mars couple was very unselfish.

The Akron woman could be traveling through the senior citizen program again in a few weeks because a donation of money was used to apply for the IRS designation for the program, Palmer said.

"We should be up and operating again very soon," she said. "I would say in the next two weeks."

Salvatierra said this was great news to hear.

"I was delighted and I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you," she said.

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