For many older adults and individuals with disabilities, access to transportation can be a daily hurdle. That means difficulties accessing essential care, as well as performing daily tasks such as grocery shopping.

Many communities have free services available to help ease that burden, including the Westcott Community Center in Syracuse. When the clock strikes 9:30 a.m. at the Westcott Community Center, that means it’s time for Michael Messina-Yauchzi to get behind the wheel.

“I’m picking up older adults to bring them to Westcott Community Center. We have light breakfast, coffee and conversation,” he said.

As Transportation Director for the Westcott Community Center, each morning Messina-Yauchzi makes the rounds, picking up seniors who cannot drive on their own.

“They need to get places, they need to go grocery shopping, to doctors appointments, to the bank,” he said.

He says for many, the service is the only way they could get to those appointments and carry out their daily tasks. Katherine Thibodeo says she depends on the service to get where she needs to go.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t get out of the house,” she said. “It’s a way for me to Keep my appointments, first of the week and Fridays, It’s also just nice getting out and socializing and meeting people.”

Some, like Ruby Randall, use the service as a way of getting to the Westcott Community Center to visit with friends.

“I like coming here because I like you jokers,” she joked to a table full of her friends. “and I like to be out of the house because otherwise I’d be sitting there by myself.”

Back at the office, Messina-Yauchzi is regrouping and getting ready to head out for his next round, knowing each day there are people depending on him.

“Transportation is an essential need that people have. Many older adults or people with disabilities don’t have a car or aren’t able to drive, they need to be able to get places. So it’s really an essential service,” he said.

The Westcott Community Center’s ride service is one of many that offer such rides in Onondaga County, others can be found through the Onondaga County Office for Aging.