ROUND ROCK, Texas — Laura Opheim is a volunteer driver for Senior Access.
“I’ve been driving since 2015 and I’ve gotten to know a lot of sweet people,” Opheim said.
The nonprofit provides free transportation to older adults to places such as the grocery store or doctor appointments. According to its website, the organization focuses on low-income areas, seniors who cannot afford transportation and need a safe and reliable ride.
“Our services are for senior adults that are 60 and older,” Serita Lacasse, executive director of Senior Access, said. “They have to be competent because we don’t want to send them with a volunteer and they don’t really know who they are.”
Volunteer drivers use their own car as they pick up their clients and drop them off at their specific location. This of course means they’re using their own gas along the way.
“I think my car probably gets 20 miles to the gallon,” Opheim said. “I could spend at least $20 a week, depending on where I’m going, driving around.”
As a volunteer she says she gets to pick and choose her routes and will usually stay local and within her area.
“The gas prices are kind of like the pandemic,” Lacasse said. “It has impacted how many people will drive into town, drive locally and take people to the closer doctors. But when people have to go further away go to the VA hospitals there’s a lot of people that don’t take those rides.”
In addition to volunteer drivers, who use their own cars, the nonprofit also has vans of their own that will shuttle clients to locations.
Senior Access relies on donations and grants to support their operation.
“We use that money for fuel for our vans,” Lacasse said. “For incentives for our volunteers, because we’re trying to get volunteers as you can imagine with these gas prices.”
Lacasse says the cost of fueling their vans has gone up by 50%, due to rising gas prices.
“When we first got our vans, gas prices were in the low 2s, and now with it almost being $5 our gas bills per month have gone up from filling our vans from $50 to $100 each time to fill up our van and we have to fill it up each week,” she said.
In 2021, the nonprofit provided 12,013 rides and services to its clients, according to its website. The nonprofit says it is gaining additional clients and is in need of more support from volunteers.
“Volunteers are probably more important than money sometimes, because if we didn’t have the volunteers that had the passion for helping seniors to get them out and help them be independent then we couldn’t do what we do,” she said.
If you’re interested in volunteering or utilizing services with Senior Access you can visit its website at senioraccesstx.org .