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Walking to raise awareness for senior mobility

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Walking to raise awareness for senior mobility

PORTLAND — Last week, Kathy Freund, 60, of Portland, spent 26 days training, leading to 25 miles walked in 24 hours. Not your typical weekend activity.

Freund walked around the Back Cove trail starting June 18 at noon, until noon the following day, all for an unpublicized cause: dignified transportation for seniors.

Freund founded the Independent Transportation Network 20 years ago, after her 3-year-old son was struck by an 84-year-old driver in a near-fatal car accident.

A couple of decades later, her nonprofit organization has expanded from its Portland roots to become ITNAmerica, with 16 affiliates in 12 states, and still growing.

Transportation for an aging population is a problem past generations didn't have to deal with. With a longer life expectancy, people are outliving current systems, Freund said, such as the automobile-centered transportation system in the U.S.

ITN provides self-sustainable "door-through-door, arm-through-arm" service to seniors, arranging rides no matter what the purpose, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We have an outdated notion of seniors spending their time watching TV and leaving their homes only to go to the grocery store," Freund said. "When in all reality, you'll still like doing the same things you do now when you're older."

A recent case from ITNGreaterLA, involved a 91-year-old man who used the network to transport him to and from romantic dates.

Members become a part of the network by paying an annual membership fee, which for the Portland affiliate is $40 for individuals or $50 for a family membership. The average rate per ride is $9, with discounts for advanced booking or shared rides.

Members are automatically set up with a prepaid personal transportation account, to which monthly funds can be added depending on the number of expected rides. No cash is exchanged between drivers and seniors.

Drivers are the key to the success of ITN, as all cars are unmarked, making the service appealing to seniors, said Freund.

In fact, "98 percent of users are very or extremely pleased," Freund said. "It's like a friend is driving you."

Drivers are paid or volunteer, using their own cars or those donated to ITN. Donating a car or logging volunteer driving hours builds up credits stored in personal accounts to be used towards future rides.

Freund said ITN is always looking to expand and gain community support.

"Becoming a volunteer driver is the number one way to help out," she said.

Businesses can also benefit from the network with programs such as Ride & Shop and Healthy Miles. Businesses can join these programs and help sponsor rides to themselves. For example, Ride & Shop includes rides to several Hannaford Supermarket locations and the Maine Mall, while Healthy Miles includes rides to Portland Foot and Ankle and Casco Bay Eyecare.

The program has also gained support of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who sought a $5 million appropriation request in the Older Americans Act. The funding provides "funds to develop innovative approaches to improving access by older individuals to transportation services."

Collins was not able to make Freund's Walk for Rides, so on June 8, Freund joined Collins in Washington D.C., to walk the halls of Congress, furthering her effort to raise awareness about dignified rides for seniors.

A YouTube video of their interaction, along with a description of Freund's journey can be found on her blog at blog.itnamerica.org/.

Donations for the Walk for Rides program can be found at walkforrides.org. To find out more about ITNAmerica visit ITNAmerica.org.