By CRISTINA JANNEY
The City of WaKeeney received grants recently to purchase a passenger van to transport residents to out-of-town appointments.
The city received a grant from K-DOT for 100 percent of the purchase cost of the van, as well as $3,748 from the Heartland Community Foundation to use toward the start-up costs.
Nancy Bollig, parish nurse for the Prairie Faith Shared Ministry, helped organize the application effort.
The city already has a bus that drives residents within the city limits, but a group of WaKeeney residents saw a need for assistance with out-of-town travel.
Bollig's ministry conducted a survey, which indicated residents needed rides for out-of-town medical appointments. This included dental care, mental health care and medical care.
WaKeeney, for example, doesn't have a dentist, so residents travel to Hill City, Quinter or Hays for their dental care.
The need for transportation was especially an issue among some of WaKeeney's older residents.
"Maybe children live out of state or maybe they don't have any family at all or family works during the day and they can't take off time," Bollig said.
Community members started providing rides on a volunteer basis. That project continued for several years.
Bollig found others interested in addressing the transportation needs during a Strategic Doing session, sponsored by the Dane G. Hansen Foundation. A small community group was formed.
The group researched what other counties were doing and found both Gove and Rooks counties have similar successful programs.
"Some of the older people just start feeling uncomfortable driving on the interstate," Bollig said. "They feel OK driving in town, but getting on the interstate or driving in Hays, they don't feel comfortable with that."
The service is not just limited to medical appointments or the elderly.
Bollig acknowledged some families do not have a vehicle or may only have one vehicle.
The community group also found there was a need for social outings. Bollig said the groups hopes to be able to organize short out-of-town trips for groups of older adults.
Some examples of excursions could be to Hays for the Encore series or to Hays or Hill City for a movie or to the car races, Bollig said.
"Those are things we take for granted because we drive ourselves," she said.
The van is on order, but COVID has slowed production.
Once the program is up and running, appointments will be taken via cell phone. A free-will donation will be taken for rides to help defer operating costs.
Organizers hope the van will be available evenings and weekends, as well as during normal business hours.
The start-up funds are being used for a cell phone for the program, a child safety seat and to advertise for drivers and trip coordinators and for the drivers' Department of Transportation physicals and training.
The community group is advertising for drivers now. You do not have to have a CDL to be a driver for this program.