May 14, 2004 – Carol DeSenne can't say enough about Dean Thomas. He's the driver of the St. John Dial-A-Ride van, and as head of the agency that sponsors Dial-A-Ride, DeSenne couldn't be happier.
Five — and sometimes six and seven — days a week, Thomas is behind the wheel, taking island seniors and disabled persons where they need to go. He sometimes takes them where they want to go, and on occasion he takes himself to places where they have to make an important stop, saving them the trip.
"We have a very valuable thing going on with our St. John Dial-A-Ride," DeSenne said this week. "There are many of our elderly and disabled people who don't have relatives or if they do, they're working a couple of jobs."
Thomas, she said, "is just an incredible man" who "does a lot of special things for the seniors. He not only gives them rides to the grocery store, to pick up prescriptions, to the doctor, to get a haircut, to church events, to funerals. He also has been, just recently, taking a man in for his dialysis on St. Thomas on the 6 o'clock barge."
According to DeSenne, "Very rarely is Dial-A-Ride called that we can't figure out how to help someone whose only problem is that they have a transportation issue."
Dial-A-Ride has been around on St. John for the last five years. The service began with a small van that ran in fits and starts and needed regular maintenance to its transmission. Two years ago, with the help of the Public Works Department, the Community Foundation acquired a 14-passenger van with a working wheelchair lift that's been in use ever since, serving residents and visitors.
Appreciation for the service has risen to such a level in the community that on Saturday, the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center is holding a fund-raising walkathon and fun run whose proceeds will benefit St. John Dial-A-Ride.
The two-mile course, which is downhill all the way, begins at the health center and ends at Cruz Bay Park. The event starts at 7 a.m. and registrations will be taken at the center in the half hour before that. Participants are asked to contribute a minimum of $5, which will go to Dial-A-Ride. For more information, see "Health Center Hosting Easy-Does-It Walkathon".
Erica McDonald, health center administrator, said the staff chose the program to benefit from its fund-raising effort, which is part of St. John's observance of National Hospital Week, because of the many ways it helps many people.
"We both have the same mission," McDonald said. "We both are here to serve the community. We felt like we wanted to have an organization that could benefit from something we could do, but also an organization that serves every member of the community.
"Even if you're not a senior, and you need to be taken to the doctor, or you need to go to the grocery store, or you need to go to the drugstore for your medication. There are tourists who can't get to the beach without Dial-A-Ride, because that van has wheelchair access."
DeSenne said she is pleased to see such a demonstration of community support for the not-for-profit transportation service. "It's wonderful," she said. "We were so pleased when Erica called us to say they were doing this for us."
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