Seniors unable to drive depend on this crucial volunteer opportunity
By Alison Rooney
With most doctors and medical facilities beyond walking distance, Philipstown residents generally have to turn a key in the ignition to keep their medical appointments. Those seniors who are no longer able to drive are dependent on relatives and friends to bring them back and forth to their physicians, and this is not always possible, nor does everyone have such a network. This is where F.I.S.H. enters the picture. F.I.S.H. stands for “Friends in Service Driving” and its mission is simple: to provide transportation for medical purposes to any Philipstown resident who needs it. Naturally enough, most of those in need the program turn out to be seniors.
F.I.S.H. is administered by Karen Virgadamo of Philipstown Recreation, and the program existed even before she started at Rec over 18 years ago. It’s a simple equation: volunteers contact Virgadamo with their availability, which can be specific or open-ended. Those in need of rides contact Virgadamo as well, giving a few days’ notice. Virgadamo then matches driver to need. The only stipulations are that the rides must be connected with a medical appointment or need, and must be within a reasonable geographic distance, which extends from the Jefferson Valley/Yorktown area to Fishkill, sometimes as far north as Poughkeepsie, or across the river to Newburgh.
At the moment, there are more requests for rides than there are driver volunteers, and Karen Virgadamo is urging more people to donate just a small amount of time—it can be as infrequent as one ride per month—to assist the senior population. As it is now, people requesting rides have been turned away on occasion, something Virgadamo hates to have happen. The County Office for the Aging is sometimes able to assist, but not always.
Eve Kristensen of Garrison has been a volunteer driver for many years. She says that she can’t recall exactly how she started except that “I had an old car, and I made a promise to myself that when I got a new one, I would do this.” Kristensen calls the driving “an adventure. I enjoy meeting new people, which happens quite often doing this. I have some I take constantly, and then there are the new ones. I enjoy helping people who can’t do it on their own. Asked if she actually brought people into the doctors’ offices, Kristensen replied “It depends. Most time I take a book with me and read. If it’s someone who needs help, I go in.” Kristensen thinks it’s a wonderful way to volunteer, in particular for recent retirees. She has noticed an increase in calls, probably due to fewer volunteers than in years past. Just a few days into October she had already had a few calls. She reiterates Virgadamo’s request: “We need volunteers.”
Rosemary Melville has used the F.I.S.H. service several times now. She says that it is “very helpful, especially as I don’t know that many people in town. I don’t drive anymore; I used to. I need transportation. A couple of different people have taken me. They’ve all been very courteous.” Melville knew of the program through her experiences during her working life as a switchboard operator at a Corning hospital. “We had a F.I.S.H. there, and when I moved down here I went and found one. I’ve used it for 4 or 5 years now.”
To speak with Karen Virgadamo about volunteering, just give her a call at 424-4669, weekdays.
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