Volunteer helps senior neighbors, one ride at a time

People living in the Chicago suburbs seldom refer to driving as a relaxing activity. But Julie Beja of Hinsdale said every trip she takes as a volunteer for Interfaith Community Partners leaves her feeling good.

"I always come home happier than when I left," said Beja, who began volunteering with the agency eight years ago.

Based in La Grange, Interfaith Community Partners offers free transportation for seniors throughout the western suburbs who no longer drive. Volunteers take them to and from medical appointments, therapies, grocery shopping trips and other necessary errands. Beja said this simple yet important service allows older adults to maintain their independence. It also helps families of seniors, many of whom are still working or raising children.

"When my mom hung up her car keys many years ago, I was fortunate to have had the time to take her to her important doctor appointments. Not every family is able to do so, with family not living nearby or work commitments. I felt very lucky I could do that for my mom," Beja said.

Today, Beja said she is happy to spend some of her free time making things easier for busy families and their loved ones.

Like all volunteers, Beja chooses which rides she will take each week. She typically signs up for one to three, depending on her own schedule and the anticipated length of each ride.

"It is 100 percent up to me which rides I can and choose to do," she said.

Beja begins each assignment with a call to introduce herself to her passenger and to confirm details of the ride. She then goes to the client's home, gets them safely in the car and drives them to their scheduled appointment. Beja helps the person inside, if needed, and waits while they see the doctor, have their medical test or complete their errand before returning them safely home.

The ride itself, Beja said, often is filled with stories that stay with her long after the client is home. Not long ago she chatted with a retired astronomer, a man who had recently lost his wife of more than 50 years, and a woman who survived World War II in Germany.

"You get back a lot more than you give," Beja said.

Having worked at a nursing home while in high school, helping older adults has been part of Beja's life since she was a teenager.

"I've always enjoyed helping elderly people," Beja said.

Beja said there is plenty of room for new volunteers to join in Interfaith Community Partners' mission to help older adults maintain their independence with safe, reliable transportation.

"We're always looking for additional drivers," Beja said.

Like Beja, all volunteers are trained and screened prior to providing their first ride. For information, visit http://www.interfaithcommunitypartners.org or call (708) 354-9328

Beja said Interfaith Community Partners is about more than safe transportation. Volunteers provide support to help older adults maintain their mobility, their independence and even the ability to stay in their homes. They also provide relief from the isolation that often comes with aging.

"It's a way to have community connected to them, so they're not so alone," Beja said.

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean