A driving force in the community

At 68 years old, Mary Deem is a driving force in the volunteer community as one of only two drivers serving the city of Belpre for Washington County’s Senior Wheels program. Volunteers transport senior citizens to both necessary and recreational errands, from doctor’s appointments to shopping malls.

The Senior Wheels program, under the umbrella of the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program that gives seniors the opportunity to help out fellow seniors, is a service opportunity for residents 55 years of age or older. Serving Washington County, Deem and her husband Roger have been the Belpre driving duo for about three years now.

Whether a client no longer has a driver’s license or simply appreciates having someone along when running various errands, Senior Wheels makes it work.

Along with volunteering in various aspects of the community, from schools to churches, Deem said the program is more than just something to fill up free time, it is a chance to make friends while serving the community.

The program is not designed on a strict schedule, as volunteers are just asked to be flexible on an on-call basis, and are given training prior to their first ride.

Lisa Valentine, the director of RSVP, said Deem is one of the program’s extremely dedicated volunteers.

“She really has a personal connection with her clients,” she said.

Question: How does the Senior Wheels program work?

Answer: The clients will call into Senior Wheels and request a ride to a doctor’s office or something. They’re allowed one personal trip per month for financial reasons, because there’s only so much to give out. They call, and depending on where they live, a driver is called, and they ask you if you have time to drive them. If we’re not busy you say yes or you say no.

Q: How flexible is the scheduling?

A: There’s no commitment in the sense that you can’t say no if you have a reason, like how I have a policy that I do not drive in the snow. Instead, your time is your donation. Senior Wheels reimburses you for your gasoline, so it doesn’t cost any money, it just takes time. The other day I was in the doctor’s office for five hours waiting, but I finished my book, which made me happy. You just have to keep yourself a little flexible.

Q: When are you at your busiest?

A: Most people want to go at the start of the month because they’ve got their checks and money, so the first week you might be a little busy. Especially in Belpre we can get really busy because my husband and I are the only drivers. This lady told me once that she never tells anyone about Senior Wheels, and when I asked why, she said “I want to make sure I get my ride!” But it’s just not a huge commitment. Nobody should be afraid to give it a shot.

Q: How did you get involved?

A: Lisa Valentine and I did 4-H together for years and she called and suggested it one time. I said “Well, why not” and my husband and Roger and I both started doing it. We’re retired, and we sit around for months and days doing nothing constructive or useful, so this is a good way to spend out time. by serving others’ needs.

Q: Do you participate in any other service activities?

A: Roger and I both volunteer for Belpre Area Ministries and Belpre Historical Society. We have really found a common interest in community service.

Q: How long have you volunteering with RSVP?

A: It’s been two or three years, and I have three women that I take pretty routinely per month. Then throughout the month I will have a one-time rider here or there.

Q: Where is the farthest you have ever driven to help someone out?

A: I took a lady and her husband to the Cleveland Clinic once. Since I grew up in Euclid it was a good excuse to go, and other people I know have traveled distances like that, but you don’t have to if you volunteer. It is all up to you.

Q: Why do you think it is so important for people to help others?

A: There’s so much going on in every community. Anybody should be able to find a worthwhile cause that they can contribute some time to, because there’s lots to be done.

Q: What do you enjoy most about doing it?

A: The people are so appreciative, and most of the ladies I take every month, they’ve become friends of mine. Besides that, it gets me out and about. A lot of the times I’ll get my own shopping down going with them.

Jackie Runion conducted the interview.