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'People who don't want our buses need to be in our shoes'

Senior transportation program scrutinized, along with other non-mandated services, by Brandon Township Board

Clockwise from near left: Marie DeRosia, Lee Cleric, Senior Van Driver Pat Reed, Thelma White, and Hazel Sloan. Many seniors depend on the SMART bus for transportation. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
September 15, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- Lee Cleric had to stop driving two years ago after her eyesight deteriorated.

The 81-year-old township resident's only mode of transportation is the Edna Burton Senior Center vehicles. She depends on the van and bus drivers, Pat Reed and Janet Clair, to get her to her optometrist, dentist, physician, and chiropractor. The senior center drivers take her once a month to get groceries. Besides providing the transportation to take care of her physical needs, the services also help ensure Cleric's emotional needs are met.

"I'm a people person," said Cleric on a recent Tuesday morning as she sat with some of her friends at the senior center, 395 Ball St. "I like to be with people and I enjoy coming here. I have no family here and no one I can depend on except for the van and the senior center. I don't know what I'd do without them."

She hopes she never has to find out, but as the township board struggles to construct a budget plan for the next three years and makes cuts amidst declining revenue, the senior transportation program is being scrutinized, along with other non-mandated services.

To Cleric and many other seniors, however, the senior center and its vehicles and drivers are vital.

Marie DeRosia, 65, is legally blind and depends on the senior vehicles to take her to doctor appointments and the monthly shopping trip. She also comes to the senior center on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for games and lunch.

"I don't leave my house— I'm stuck there until they bring me here," DeRosia said. "I'm lonely when I'm not here... On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I can't wait to get up and get ready to come here."

"Me, too!" chimes in Hazel Sloan, 79, who also takes the van or bus to the center on Thursdays. "At home, I'm alone except for my cats... People who don't want our buses need to be in our shoes. They will be old one day."

Pat Reed, the full-time van driver at the senior center, is currently compiling information on usage of the center's vehicles at the request of township boardmembers.

She estimates that she and part-time van driver Janet Clair transport 122 senior citizens and disabled residents on a monthly basis. That transportation includes the monthly shopping trip, to non-emergency medical appointments including physical therapy, kidney dialysis, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, to the senior center, and to the pharmacy to pick up medication. In addition, Reed and Clair pick up about 25 residents of area group homes every week and bring them to the senior center.

Any senior 60 or over, or disabled residents of any age can use the van. A $2 donation is requested, but waived for those who can't afford it. Some riders are frequent users, like Sloan, Cleric and DeRosia. Others use it rarely.

Last week, Reed said 11 people were transported on Tuesday, 22 on Wednesday, 16 on Thursday, and seven on Friday. Besides the senior center here, destinations include Clarkston, Grand Blanc, Holly, Lake Orion, Oxford and Pontiac. She tries to consolidate trips where possible. The two SMART buses seat 11 people, or eight with a wheelchair and the van seats seven people, with an extra spot for a wheelchair user. One bus is 8-years-old and has 115,000 miles on it; the other is 5-years-old, with 98,000 miles, and the van is 3-years-old, with 37,000 miles logged.

"If they didn't have us, they would have to hire private companies and pay through the nose and they can't afford that," said Reed. "There is no public transportation... This is everything to the seniors. We have all those baby boomers coming, we gotta keep this going somehow. Some of these people, the only time they get out of the house is a bus ride to the senior center. They need it for their physical and mental well-being—to socialize and realize there's other people in the world."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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