Engaging Communities, One Ride at a Time

Nitzan Barlev reflects on her AmeriCorps service with Full Life Care’s 2019-2020 team, as the community engagement specialist for the Driving Companion Program (DCP) at Sound Generations.

The Driving Companion Program is a pilot targeted toward immigrant and refugee seniors in King County who have often been underserved by conventional volunteer transportation programs. What makes the program so special is that volunteer drivers and clients come from the same communities and schedule their own trips with minimal interference from myself or Sound Generations.

The pilot reimburses drivers for the mileage and parking they accumulate. This gives our partners autonomy and strengthens existing social networks within these community-based organizations. We currently have more than 70 clients from diverse backgrounds, and counting! Clients and drivers travel all over King County, visiting shopping malls, doctors, social services, social events and much more.

I love sharing the Driving Companion Program with different folks across Seattle, whether it is at a senior housing building, an ethnic community-based organization or a senior center. I am awe-struck by all the tireless, hard-working executive directors, program managers and community leaders I meet. Even though they’re stretched so thin, many go the extra mile to introduce their members to one more program that can potentially make a big impact in their daily lives.

Seniors come by my outreach events and share their life stories, painful memories, small victories, funny anecdotes or current goals. This sharing of our selves helps us build trust, but also helps me figure out how we can either incorporate this transportation program into their lives, or refer them to other services. Creating partnerships with diverse communities is all about relationships, and that’s the greatest challenge and joy of all. 

Once clients and drivers start enjoying the Driving Companion Program, I’m sometimes surprised with beautiful notes in my inbox. One of my drivers is paired with a client with high needs due to her disabilities. She writes: “This program has been a life-saver. My rider is experiencing so much less stress because I am able to get her around without straining her budget. It is amazing how well it is working. I can take her to 12-step recovery groups, public forums such as Seattle City Council meetings, as well as other important appointments. We are both so grateful.”

Words like this make the hard work of being an AmeriCorps member more than worth it.

Interested in serving your community? Full Life is now accepting applications for the 2019-2020 AmeriCorps team, which begins service in September. Apply through the AmeriCorps listing or email us for information.