By Joan F. Simoneau,? Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Seniors who are in need of a ride to medical appointments because family and friends are unable to help are being accommodated by?a group of volunteers in?the?Friends in Service Helping (FISH) program.
If someone needs assistance, they leave a message on the phone message system?and a coordinator?locates a volunteer driver who contacts the requestor and makes the final arrangements for the ride, according to Larry Vifquain, manager of the local program.
“We ask for a week's notice so we can best respond to need,” he said.?”We are a group of volunteers whose purpose is to be of assistance when our neighbors need help.”
The program does not accept payment for services, but donations to the Friends of Marlborough Seniors and notes thanking the FISH service are appreciated.
The need for the service continues to increase and more help is needed. The all-volunteer service offers two opportunities to help out, as drivers or coordinators.
“Drivers enjoy transporting our clients to their appointments,” said Vifquain. “They are never under any duress to accept an assignment, use their own cars and can select the time, day and destination to fit their own calendar.?Drivers have found this activity to be rewarding and the clients have found that the social aspect of riding with a volunteer is sometimes as valuable as the ride itself. It is a wonderful way for people to connect and make the city a better place for our seniors.”
Barbara McGuire has been using the service for the past two years and finds the volunteers very accommodating.
“The drivers are all very personable and caring and make a difficult situation much easier,” she said.? “Larry (Vifquian) is a great guy and really makes the program work successfully.”
Drivers are reimbursed for any parking or tolls by the client. Drivers are free to accept or reject any ride request and can freely choose when and where they drive to. This may be as little as once per month. Requirements include a Massachusetts license and a good driving record.
The coordinator role is an ideal activity for someone who prefers to do volunteer work from home. They check messages left on the FISH answering machine, contact the client for details on times and dates, then solicit a driver through email or telephone.
“Coordinators usually check the FISH answering machine three times a day and are members of a team that work on a rotating two-week basis,” explained Vifquain.
All FISH volunteer applications must submit to a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check.
A Marlborough resident for 36 years who raised her family here, Leslie Biggar considers it an honor to serve as a volunteer for FISH. She has been a driver for the past six months.
“I attend art classes and exercise classes at the senior center and it gives me a chance to start giving back,” she said.?”It also gets me away from the computer and meeting nice people. I enjoy helping others.”
FISH began in the early 1960s in England as a way to revive the old-fashioned concern for one's neighbor. Today there are more than 1,000 FISH groups around the world.
FISH of Marlborough was launched in November 2010 through the efforts of Ellie Harris, Lynn Anderson and?Vifquain, who started planning and organizing the program earlier that year.
The program is sponsored by the Marlborough Council on Aging and operates through the Senior Center at 250 Main St.
“We started with 26 volunteers and 13 clients,” said Vifquain. “Today we have 40 volunteers and over 100 clients and have provided almost 800 rides through May this year.”
The service is currently available to Marlborough residents 65 and over.?Local communities currently being served include public housing at 240 Main St., 29 Pleasant St., and 397 Bolton St.; Academy Knoll Apartments; Christopher Heights; Marlborough Hills Health Care Center; members of “Friends of Marlborough Seniors”; and the 55-plus communities Villages of East Marlborough and Village at Crane Meadow. Also served are veterans referred by Veterans Agent Gary Brown.?Services will be extended to other local groups as additional volunteers become available.
For more information or to join the service, call 508-485-6492, ext. 11.