By Alicia Dziak

Almost three decades ago, The Rural Transit Organization began as a small non-profit to provide safe and reliable transportation to the seniors, disabled and low income residents of rural Erie County.  It has since grown to provide thousands of rides per year to eligible residents in 25 municipalities across Erie County.

Today, Rural Transit Service thrives with the help of over 130 volunteers who are making a difference by volunteering to drive the vans, answer the phones and ride along with drivers to help clients on and off the vans and carry groceries.  Clients are able to maintain their independence through transportation provided to medical appointments, nutrition programs, grocery stores, banks and more, and Rural Transit is looking for volunteers to continue their efforts.

According to Executive Director Brenda O’Neill, there are currently three different opportunities with volunteering:

• Driving –driving a provided Rural Transit vehicle to transport individuals to and from destinations

• Dispatching – answering single phone line to schedule trips

• Driver aide  – opening door for riders on and off the vans

There is no minimum commitment, and O’Neill emphasized that they will work with a volunteer’s schedule.  “Many of our volunteers pick a day of the week to volunteer a couple hours and some are ‘back up’ volunteers and fill in when our regulars are not available,” she explained.

Hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., and they are always looking for volunteers during that time.

“The passing of my wife created a void in my life which RTS and the wonderful clients filled.  No amount of money can compare to the feeling of happiness I get from helping others.  I look forward to the days I volunteer, really volunteering for RTS has helped me,” said 7-year volunteer Ralph of Hamburg.

Rural Transit is about providing quality of life. The man who rarely left his home is now utilizing the local library and attending the nutrition program; the woman who lived too far away from her doctors and was avoiding medical care because of the high cost of transportation is now visiting her doctor regularly.

For more information on ridership or to volunteer, call 592-0088.