Agencies seek grants to expand transportation services

By Katie Demeria

Two agencies are working to expand transportation services for individuals in need throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

Shen-Paco Industries, Inc. and Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, Inc. are in the process of applying for grants through Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

SAAA has a program called WellTran that it hopes to expand through the grant with additional vehicles. Director of Transportation Bob Haas said the request comes from an evident need within the community.

“We provided nearly 10,000 rides last year, and the need just continues to grow,” Haas said. “We’re not meeting it right now, and there really isn’t anybody else that provides any kind of public transportation in the whole area.”

WellTran uses nine vehicles to transport individuals who have no access to other forms of mobility, while two larger vans are kept on standby. They are requesting funds to purchase two more wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Shen-Paco Industries provides vocational and base support services to adults with disabilities, and transportation is vital, according to Program Director Mickie Duncan.

“Without this door-to-door service for our individuals, they wouldn’t be able to come here,” she said. “Many of their parents either work or can’t bring them themselves.”

Shen-Paco already has two buses for use by individuals involved in their programs, Duncan continued, and those vehicles are full.

The grant would provide 80 percent of the cost of two additional 15-passenger, wheelchair accessible buses, Duncan said.

“And if we get it, we’re still not likely to actually get these vehicles until 2016,” she added.

According to Haas, Shen-Paco and SAAA are attempting to provide transportation services to an area where many have no access to vehicles.

“WellTran isn’t just for senior citizens,” he said. “It’s for anyone with a disability of any kind that will keep them from traveling on their own. They’re all eligible, from 18 and up, and many of those people very much need these services.

“We try, as much as we can, to reach those people who are economically challenged, that are out in the rural areas, that don’t have any other options.”

Many people taking advantage of WellTran use the service on a regular basis.

“We have people who need to go to Winchester every day for dialysis treatment, for example,” Haas said. “This transportation is a long-term commitment. It’s something that, once you take it on, you just have to continue doing.”

The same is true of those who use Shen-Paco’s services, according to Duncan.

“It’s very important to be able to transport them to and from the program every day,” she said. “This is their outlet, basically, away from home. They come here to work, they come here to do a purposeful activity on a daily basis. This is their job.”

Those interested in commenting on either agency’s grant proposal can contact the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Human Services Project Manager.

Both Shen-Paco and WellTran also accept public donations toward transportation services.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com