Wheels of Kindness: The Impact of Volunteer Transportation

New Growth Staff
May 15, 2024

The Rural Transportation Challenge

For over a decade, regional community assessments have highlighted the need for increased transportation resources, a challenge that few believed could be addressed. Sparse population density has resulted in limited public transportation options, hampering residents' access to essential services like healthcare, education, and employment. These obstacles not only impact rural residents' daily lives but also hinder economic development and social inclusion.

A Transformative Approach

New Growth Transit began addressing the rural transportation challenge in 2019 by engaging community stakeholders, local hospitals, and employers. We created a multifaceted approach with a volunteer driver program that leverages technology for greater efficiency.

In four years, New Growth Transit has expanded to serve 14 counties in west central Missouri. The El Dorado Springs-based staff coordinates requested rides scheduled at least 48 hours in advance through phone conversations with riders. On average there are 50 volunteer drivers, and collectively they’ve driven 500,000 miles. The drivers are vetted, certified and trained in the program. A special license is not required, because volunteer drivers use their personal vehicles to provide the rides.

“We knew the need for transportation existed. It has been so encouraging to see a volunteer driver program provide accessible transportation that is tailored to the unique needs of rural communities,” commented Kelly Ast, New Growth Transit Chief Officer.

The volunteer transportation program reimburses drivers $0.67 per mile, the current IRS allowed rate for reimbursement. Rides are mapped using an app and a tablet provided to the volunteers. However, another challenge is lack of reliable internet and mobile phone coverage in some rural areas which can hamper implementation of a fully modern transportation solution.  

Volunteer Drivers Empower Community

The average age of volunteer drivers is 64. “Originally we thought finding volunteer drivers was going to be our large hurdle to overcome. But we quickly found that finding volunteers in rural Missouri is easier than we thought,” remarked Kelly Ast.

Tameka D. - a Volunteer Driver from Dallas County

One driver, Tameka, shared her reason for joining the program. “I'd been on disability for years when I was diagnosed with cancer. After the good Lord healed me, I felt motivated to find something meaningful I could do other than sitting around. Being able to choose my availability to drive sealed the deal. I’m ecstatic to help in this way. It lifts my spirits too.” Tameka drives several days a week for her fellow residents in Dallas County. “I’ve been homeless and lived without a car before. I know what it is like to be stranded.”

Being stranded or isolated is common for many of New Growth Transit riders. They face this situation either due to the lack of a public transportation option or because other public transportation operates on very limited days and hours. The most common destinations for riders are local and long-distance non-emergency medical appointments, employment, and trips to local grocery stores or food pantries.

Tameka said, “This gives me the opportunity to help people do what they really need to do!” She's found purpose in volunteering with New Growth Transit.

To become a volunteer driver, call us at 417-283-7991 between 8am and 4pm, Monday through Friday, or email us at transportation@wcmcaa.org