Service offers ‘freedom’ to seniors

Seniors who no longer want to drive or can no longer drive have a new option to get where they want to go.

Envoy America – a subscription-based ride service that provides door-to-door rides and companionship for seniors – was founded in 2012 by Andy Beran and K.C. Kanaan and officially launched in May in Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Paradise Valley and North Phoenix. The owners’ goal is to expand into other areas in the Valley within the next year and then introduce the brand nationally.

More than 30 percent of seniors ages 65 and older rely on others for at least some transportation, according to a 2009 study by the National Household Transportation Survey. In the past, adult children, friends or neighbors often assisted with transportation, but with the dispersion of today’s families and other changes in society, “there’s a need for a new model,” Beran said.

Customers sign up for a certain number of hours of transportation every month – an introductory package is $98 for four hours – or they can call as needed. “Very often, it’s the adult children of seniors that contact us and they’re the ones that are paying the bill,” Beran said. Typical trips include doctor’s appointments, shopping trips and worship services, he said. This year, Envoy America is providing free transportation for seniors attending High Holiday services at Congregation Or Tzion in Scottsdale.

The driver picks the client up at their door, assists them to the car, if needed, and then accompanies them throughout the trip and back home again, similar to how a son or daughter would assist them. “The minute their appointment is done, we’re back inside the car,” Beran said. Payment arrangements are made beforehand and there is no tipping. “For adult children, our service to them is peace of mind,” he said.

Diana Krohn of Scottsdale recently started using the service, initially for getting to and from the airport. She said that although she still drives, driving at night is difficult for her and some of her friends.

Last week, Krohn used Envoy America for a lunch date at Chompie’s in Scotts­dale with a friend who had trouble walking due to a hip injury. The driver, Anthony Badalamenti, first picked up Krohn and then her friend Verla Shaw, who recently moved into a senior residence home after a fall. The driver assisted Shaw into the car and accompanied the friends into the restaurant and brought them both home afterward. “I don’t want anybody falling when I’m taking responsibility for them when they’re leaving a home,” said Krohn, explaining why she used the service for their visit. People are often stuck at home because they don’t know about this type of service or because cabs are too expensive, Krohn said, and “being alone, you go downhill quickly.”

Badalamenti recently retired after working at FedEx Ground for more than 12 years and since June has worked up to six hours each week as a driver at Envoy America. “I wanted something to do besides staying home,” he said. He said that clients have told him that “it gives them a sense of freedom. … Now they have somebody to call if they need to go somewhere and they can’t get a ride.”

Drivers use their own vehicles and before a driver is employed by the company, they go through a background check, a drug test and a vehicle safety inspection.

Envoy America also works with independent living facilities, Kanaan said, and is interested in partnering with others, too, such as Jewish community organizations that want to provide transportation for seniors attending their events.

Beran and Kanaan previously worked together at Intel and noted that senior transportation was a passion they both shared. Beran, who is Jewish, and Kanaan, who is Palestinian, both have mothers who live in other cities who could benefit from the type of services that Envoy America provides.

According to Stuart Wachs, federation president and CEO, Envoy America is currently on the referral list of the Jewish Family & Children’s Services’ senior concierge, a position created based on a recommendation by a Senior Services Task Force after evaluating a 2014 senior services study by the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix. Uber is also on the list, as the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center was recently selected to participate in an Uber pilot program and will host tutorial sessions for the ride-sharing service that connects riders with drivers through a Smartphone application.

Senior issues are one of three core impact areas for federation program grants (the other two are NowGen and Israel advocacy). The federation’s next step is to develop a task force or committee by the end of the year to help decide what senior issue to address in the next cycle, which will be funded by the 2015 annual campaign, Wachs said.

Call 602-687-6345 or visit envoyamerica.com. This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.  

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