Peter Resnik, CFA, CPA and chair of Jewish Foundation of Louisville, said the Foundation is happy to provide funding for this valuable and important community service. “The PALS program is a great example of where our community foundation can make impact grants. The staff and volunteers at Jewish Family and Career Services reach out and deliver a quality service for seniors accessing the program’s benefits.”
Ninety-nine-year old Marie Goodwin credits the PALS program with helping her maintain a sense of independence and stay active – the keys to her quality of life – and longevity, and she is grateful to JFCS for the Passport Around Louisville (PALS) program.
The program is Goodwin’s regular ride not only to the dentist and doctor, but also to her ElderHostel classes at Bellarmine University.
“The PALS program has been a godsend for me,” said Goodwin. “The service is extremely reliable, and it has been great to be able to go to my classes. The last one I took we learned about Bruges, Belgium.”
Goodwin, who will turn 100 in September, said it was very difficult having to give up driving. “The city, in fact the country, is just not geared for people who don’t drive, so PALS has really helped. I have given the phone number to several other people recommending the program,” she said.
Goodwin is one of approximately 130 seniors who use the program to access transportation for medical appointments, physical therapy, beauty salon, pharmacy or grocery store trips or many other destinations. Seniors or their family members often call or come seeking assistance from PALS when there has been a change in family circumstances, said PALS coordinator Naomi Malka. “Where once transportation wasn’t an issue, suddenly the families realize they can no longer do it, and they need help.”
The PALS program has been there to help with this community need since 2003, and has experienced enormous growth as the senior population has grown, said Mauri Malka, director of Family Services at JFCS, who is also Naomi’s mother. “When we started PALS, we had a handful of volunteers providing about 10-12 rides a week, but this year, we are providing in excess of 500 rides a month,” she said.
The program now employs three paid drivers and vehicles, including one handicapped- accessible van, and utilizes an additional 16-20 volunteers, who use their own vehicles to escort the seniors. Marui Malka emphasized that more volunteers are always needed for PALS.
When a senior citizen or family member wishes to use The PALS program, the first step is an in-depth assessment with a case manager to determine the specifics of the client’s needs and explain the policies and procedures of the program. “Our priority is to see how best to meet those needs in the most safe manner,” said Mauri Malka. “For example, if we have a client with cognitive issues, we ensure the driver stays with them throughout the appointment and doesn’t just drop them off.”
In fact, clients are provided rides in a variety of ways through the PALs program. They can be dropped off and picked up again later just like a taxi. The driver can also assist the client to get in to the appointment and then come back; or in other situations the driver can stay the whole time. “Whether it’s door to door, door through door, or door through appointment, the approach is very hands-on,” Mauri Malka said.
Rides are offered from once a month to daily. Once a senior signs up for PALS, they pay a one-time program fee of $50. Rides are offered for $15 round-trip or $8 one-way. The service radius is 25 miles, with $5 for each additional 10 miles traveled. There may be a slight additional fee if the driver stays with the client through the appointment. The program asks for a week’s notice but if not possible, that can be waived in some situations. “We try to be accommodating, particularly with doctors’ appointments, since we know how those can go,” said Mauri Malka.
The $25,000 grant from the Jewish Foundation of Louisville to support the program couldn’t be more welcome to a program that is continually growing, said Mauri Malka. “We are grateful to Jewish Foundation of Louisville for their generosity. Without these funds, we would not be able to meet the increasing needs and provide the number of rides we do. More seniors are able to stay in their homes now, and we can continue to help them with their desire to live independently. Our priority is to provide a system both safe and convenient for our clients, and we do a really good job with that. PALS is easy to access and accommodating, and there are no long waits. We are on-call and ready to roll when needed,” she said.
According to Mauri Malka, the program goes a long way to help clients maintain a sense of independence. “I can still remember how I felt when I was given my car keys for the first time. So if you imagine those being taken away … PALS is a way to ease that angst and that loss of not being able to drive anymore.”
The program can also help some seniors to mitigate their sense of isolation, said PALS coordinator Naomi Malka. “The clients are very appreciative and really look forward to their trips because it might be the only socialization they get. They have someone to listen to them and be with them. Some even begin to develop relationships so they start asking to make sure they get their favorite driver.”
For more information about the PALS program, contact Naomi Malka or to find out about being a PALS volunteer, contact Kim Toebbe at 452-6341.