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Need for Volunteer Senior Drivers Growing on the Westside [VIDEO]

The Independent Transportation Network of Greater Los Angeles only has nine drivers servicing Westside seniors unable to drive on their own, and demand is increasing.

If you’re a senior living on the Westside and have ever asked for a ride to the doctor’s office or the grocery store, there’s a fairly good chance Donald Keller was your driver.

He's one of nine drivers providing what the Independent Transportion Network of Greater Los Angeles (ITNGreaterLA) calls "dignified transportation for seniors," and they need more volunteers.

"I've done an awful lot of driving in this country," said Keller, 82, of Brentwood.

The U.S. Air Force veteran has more than 50 years experience working real estate and general contracting. When he retired in 2007, Keller said he still liked being out and about on the city streets.

"After all this time working, I just wanted to give back to my community," Keller said.

When he started volunteering with ITN, Keller drove his Lexus ES 350. When gasoline prices began soaring, he got a Chevy Volt after he was spending $260 a month on fuel. Now, Keller said he's driving Tuesdays and Thursdays for roughly 12 hours a week, in addition to whatever their dispatcher may need help with on a weekly basis.

The Center for Healthy Aging began developing ITNSantaMonica (now ITNGreaterLA) in early 2005 as the first replication of the national ITN, based in Portland, Maine. Teresa Bond, president of ITNGreaterLA, said CHA was particularly interested in the program because one of its offices is located a few blocks from the site of the 2003 farmers' market tragedy in Santa Monica involving an older driver.

"He's wonderful," said Bond of Keller. "We're trying to have a proactive way to help seniors give up driving when it's time to give up driving."

Bond said they are looking for at least 20 volunteer drivers for ITNGreaterLA in the Westside to help relieve their dispatcher of the constraint of doing double duty, essentially providing the service and being unable to dual manage calls while mobile. She noted they've plateaued at approximately 300 rides a month given the need for more volunteers to drive in the Westside.

"It's a really wonderful relationship that develops between the driver and the seniors," Bond said, noting their drivers, like Keller, visit seniors in the hospital, have clients who bring their pets along for the ride.

ITNGreaterLA is privately funded and receives no federal dollars.

"We raise money," Bond said. "We depend on donations and we do charge for our services, which is half of what it takes to provide a ride."

Calling it a "silver tsunami" of 77 million baby boomers reaching the age bracket, Bond said they are trying to build their network of volunteer drivers to meet those needs.

For seniors living in Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Brentwood and parts of West L.A., Bond said many local seniors may have bought their homes in the 1940s and are now living on a fixed income. She also said some Westside seniors live far away from bus stops and taxi companies may be a little remiss to take someone to and from the market.

"They might not be lucky enough to hire private drivers," Bond added. "So theres a lot of people who fall into that mid range, and we need to address that."

Seniors will most likely give up their keys when they have a service that is nearly as good as driving their own private car, Bond noted.

"[For] a senior who's never ridden public transportation, when they give up the keys, [they] will most likely not use public transportation," she said.

For Keller, he wants to help more seniors get around, like the woman from Brentwood he brings to her therapy sessions in Westwood, or the woman from Malibu who goes to therapy sessions in Pacific Palisades, or the woman from West L.A. who he brings to Marina del Rey to play cards with her friends.

"They think I'm the greatest," Keller said with a smile.

For more information on ITNGreaterLA and how to get involved, visit their website.

Lorelei Shark December 06, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Who would've thought that an angel could be in the form of an 82 year-old vet. Donald Keller is an angel - and a wonderful, kind one at that. This is a compassionate man performing a vital service for people who love and adore him for it. It's a perfect symbiotic relationship. Thank you Mr. Keller for being you.
Carol Spencer December 06, 2012 at 05:56 PM
It is nice to know that this service exists for anyone over 60 years old. However, when I called to seek information the voice that answered stated she was out of town and would return the call next week. It appears one must book ahead days or up to a week ahead to use this service. Also, the website links to a national site. There is another service called Access Services that takes qualifying persons anyplace within LA County for set fees when a request is phoned in the day before. Disabled persons,must go through the process of qualifying to become a member of this program.
Teresa Bond December 06, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Carol, Thank you for your interest. ITN is a small organization and works on a membership basis. We do take calls and provide rides on a same day basis as long as this person is a member and in our system. Thank you for leaving a message, we will get back with you. Teresa Bond
Jessica Galvan January 18, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Yes, Donald Keller is an angel and I'm glad I had the opportunity to sell him his Volt. He has a great purpose in life.
jayne April 04, 2013 at 05:25 AM
i'm looking for a driver or drivers to take my friend, lillian, and other seniors living at silvercrest active senor residence in santa monica on erands and to appointments for a reasonable fee. please contact me at jaynem37@gmail.com--thank you for any leads. jayne

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