Photo By: PhotoS Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
El Camino Hospital RoadRunners volunteer Kevin Schick ferries Sunnyvale resident Emma Bertuicco to her dentist appointment in downtown Los Altos.
For Los Altos resident Kevin Schick, his efforts as a volunteer driver for El Camino Hospital’s RoadRunners transportation service is more than just a way to occupy his post-retirement time – it’s also personal.
Schick said his volunteer service is his way of giving back to El Camino Hospital for saving the life of his wife, Gloria. In 2007, he recalled, his wife suddenly experienced several fainting spells. Days after discovering a brain tumor larger than a golf ball, neurologists at the hospital performed an eight-hour surgery to remove it.
“The net result is she’s doing fantastic, thank God,” Schick said of his wife’s current condition. “I always wanted to do something, to volunteer as a way to pay back El Camino Hospital for such a great outcome under a lot of duress.”
So when Schick retired from a 28-year career as an executive at Con-Way Freight two years ago, he joined the 37-year-old RoadRunners service, driving seniors and others with transportation challenges to and from their medical appointments.
A seven-year Los Altos resident, Schick currently volunteers for one half-day shift each week. Schick, a Los Altos Rotarian, also serves as treasurer for the hospital’s auxiliary. He noted that the RoadRunners service is a sorely needed and low-cost resource for those living within a 10-mile radius of El Camino’s Mountain View campus.
“It is a very critical link, and the unfortunate thing is there’s so much demand and only a limited amount of supply,” Schick said of the program, which offers one-way rides ranging between $5.50 and $19. “For many who have walkers or canes, it’s difficult enough for them to navigate out of their front door to the car, let alone walk several blocks to get to a bus stop.”
A boon for seniors
According to program manager Bonnie Adamson, approximately 80 percent of the 90-100 clients transported each week are seniors with various degrees of physical ability. She added that the service also assists those with limited financial means, offering scholarships that cut the price of one-way rides in half or less.
“If someone has a need – especially a medical need – and they don’t have the income, we figure out a way to take care of it,” Adamson said of the transportation service, which was founded in 1976 and currently averages 102,000 miles annually. “We don’t turn anyone down.”
Like Schick, Adamson said the service is a critical need for those unable to drive or simply unable to secure a ride from friends or family. The service aims to add the personal touch as well, with several regular customers getting to know the fleet of volunteer drivers well over time.
“We hear it all the time how much (the clients) appreciate it,” said Adamson, who has served as the program’s manager for the past 16 years. “The drivers, in many cases, actually become their friends. To them, they’re much more than just a RoadRunner.”
Among those who regularly use the service is 50-year Sunnyvale resident Emma Bertuicco. Ten years ago, following the death of her husband, Bertuicco said a friend told her about RoadRunners and she has since been a regular customer. She noted that RoadRunners is more cost-efficient than a taxi service and more convenient than relying on public transportation.
“You can’t find it any better,” said Bertuicco, who requests rides through the program as frequently as twice per week. “They’re on time to pick you up – coming and going – and all of them have been so courteous and helpful. … They’re absolutely fantastic – a godsend for me.”
Schick added that the program also serves as a chance for social interaction among many clients. As is often the case, he said, drivers and clients become familiar with one another and chat about family or other interests.
“It’s just a matter of socialization for some of them,” Schick added. “They appreciate a familiar face. You start to develop a kind of family network arrangement. So the driver and the client derive something out of it. It’s a win-win situation.”
With the demand for transportation growing, the program needs additional help, Adamson said. RoadRunners, she said, is currently staffed with just 34 drivers to cover rides 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. weekdays – a 10-year low. The program, she added, is currently in the midst of a recruiting push to coax those with free time – and a clean driving record – aboard.
“Our biggest hurdle is constantly keeping our volunteer staff up,” Adamson said of the program, which currently has a fleet of nine vehicles for volunteers to use. “Transportation is the No. 1 need for seniors. … Since last summer, we’ve lost 13 drivers, so our need is tremendous.”
Schick noted that volunteers quickly find out that the service – while satisfying needs for its clients – provides unexpected benefits as well.
“I get the satisfaction of knowing that in a small way, you’re helping these folks get to their medical appointments – whether it’s a checkup or many times, when they’re going in to be monitored for a particular ailment,” he said. “It’s nice to know that in a small way, you’re helping them out.”
To volunteer and for more information on RoadRunners, visit www.elcaminohospital.org.