OLYMPIA – People in Thurston County are traveling a little easier, through the Bus Buddy program managed by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.
Created five years ago, the Bus Buddy program matches volunteers with people who need extra help riding the bus.
“They might have physical or mental challenges or be new to the area,” said Cathy Lanier, who has served as a Bus Buddy volunteer for more than two years as a way to give back.
“I have the time, so I wanted to get involved with and connect more with my community,” she explained. “I’ve been riding the bus for 21 years, so I know the routes pretty well.”
Bus Buddy is a partnership of CCS, Intercity Transit in Olympia and the Washington State Department of Transportation. In 2018, it facilitated 168 local bus rides, including assistance for 119 first-time riders, according to coordinator Scott Schoengarth of CCS. The Bus Buddy volunteers and riders also made 17 group trips to cultural sites in Tacoma and Seattle.
The program has about seven active Bus Buddy volunteers like Lanier, who accompany clients on the bus to help them safely get to doctor’s appointments or church, Schoengarth said.
Developing a friendship
To volunteer, Bus Buddy applicants must provide three references and pass a Washington State Patrol background check. After four hours of training, they are matched with riders, according to Schoengarth.
Lanier was matched with Jonathan Yost, who suffers from anxiety issues. When his mom was no longer able to drive him, he needed a way to get around.
“With Cathy, I feel relaxed and comfortable,” Yost said. “It’s an excellent program.”
“We’ve developed a great friendship,” Lanier said. “I talk to him once a week even if I don’t see him.”
The program helps Yost travel to his own volunteer activity, singing at retirement homes in Lacey and Olympia.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to sing for older folks,” Yost said. “[Bus Buddy] has allowed me to give my time and talents to make other people’s day brighter.”
In addition to being experienced bus riders, volunteers must be flexible, Schoengarth said. For example, if the weather’s bad, clients may cancel.
“Nobody wants to go out in February,” Lanier said. “It’s pretty quiet.”
But once the weather warms up, volunteer hours start to increase. Lanier said she typically volunteers 15 hours a month, which qualifies her to receive a free monthly bus pass (given to those volunteering at least six hours each month).
Getting the word out
Bus Buddy representatives have visited Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey and St. Edward Parish in Shelton to tell people about the program, Schoengarth said. It’s a good way to let people with older parents know about the service, he explained.
“Maybe you know it’s time for Mom and Dad to be handing over their keys, but they’re scared to ride the bus,” Schoengarth said. “We’ll work that out.”
In addition to riding with clients, Lanier also visits area churches and farmers markets in Thurston County to promote the Bus Buddy program. “You never know where you’re going to find clients,” she said.
“The people at CCS are wonderful,” Lanier added. “A lot more cities should utilize this program because it would help a lot of people.”
“We always can use more Buddies,” Schoengarth said.
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