Volunteer Week acknowledges services
Last updated 4/18/2023 at 6:15pm
The theme of National Volunteer Week, April 16-24, is "Volunteering Weaves Us Together."
Nowhere is that truer than among the Sisters Transportation and Ride Share (STARS) volunteers who provide free rides to nonemergency medical appointments for their neighbors in the Sisters School District. By offering to support their neighbors, volunteers add to the strength and vibrancy of Sisters.
Mark Reed and his wife, Vicki Bugbee-Reed, first volunteered to be drivers in the early days of STARS, which coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19. Mark went through the training to become a dispatcher about a year and a half ago because he is fluent in Spanish and could help with calls coming in from Spanish-speaking residents. He has provided a few rides for them as well. Mark says he averages about five rides a month and appreciates the scheduling flexibility the program provides.
Reed said he was inspired to volunteer for STARS because "I live in a city surrounded by excellent volunteers who give way more than I do.... This kind of program helps keep our identity as a small town.... STARS is one of many great opportunities to help out in this wonderful community."
Serving as a substitute driver for Meals on Wheels as well as a trail angel for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are other ways Reed makes a difference.
"There is no better feeling than helping a neighbor," he said. "Driving for STARS requires a minimum investment of time. It is such an easy way to make a difference. I always come home feeling good because the passengers are always so grateful and appreciate what we do."
Graphic artist Karen Thrower's involvement with STARS started in 2019 when Annie Marland recruited her to design the organization's brochure. She then became one of the first dispatchers, which involves taking phone calls on Tuesday or Thursday from community members needing rides to doctor, dentist, labs, testing, or physical therapy appointments in Sisters, Bend, or Redmond. She used to take calls one day every week. Now that the dispatcher pool has grown to eight volunteers, she only does two shifts a month.
As a dispatcher, Thrower can have calls to STARS forwarded to her personal cell phone, so she is able to go about her normal routine and is not confined to a phone on a desk. When a request for a ride is received on Tuesday or Thursday from a new rider, the dispatcher does an intake, which includes name, physical address, mailing address, phone number (home and cell), email address (optional), and an emergency contact, including their phone and email address.
The dispatcher will also take information about the date, time, and location of their appointment and what their mobility status is (cane, walker) and additional needs (companion, appointment check-in assistance).
Thrower said STARS now has dozens of "regulars" and those intakes are short because the information is stored in the STARS system. Once the request has been received, the dispatcher posts it to the dashboard online where the volunteer drivers can choose the ride(s) that fit their schedules. The drivers confirm the ride online and call the passenger directly to notify them they will be driving them.
Thrower, who has a diverse background in volunteering, both as a SMART volunteer in Portland and doing art with school children, says she enjoys her duties with STARS (she also occasionally drives) because "it connects me to my Sisters neighbors. It is the most satisfying gig I've had. I love engaging with our clients and they are always so grateful for the rides."
STARS truly is a 100 percent volunteer organization, as one of the action teams of Age Friendly Sisters Country (AFSC). Besides the eight dispatchers, there are about 50 Sisters residents who drive their own cars, and they are all trained and overseen by Rennie Morrell, program manager, Toni Landis, driver manager, Tom Gonsiewski, dispatch manager, and Gayle Sawyer, passenger liaison.
From March 2020 to July 2022, STARS provided 684 rides, drove over 34,000 miles, and delivered over 6,000 volunteer hours to the community.
STARS has received funding for its program from the Roundhouse Foundation, Rumberger Foundation, St. Charles Foundation, Citizens4Community, City of Sisters, and Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation.
If you, or someone you know, could benefit from this free ride service, call 541-904-5545 on Tuesday or Thursday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to speak with a dispatcher. The requests need to be made 48 hours in advance of the appointment to ensure time to get a driver scheduled. For more information on their services and volunteer opportunities, see their website at http://www.starsride.org.