Bus program ensures Penn Yan elderly have a ride to church
Until she began volunteering with the Sunday Bus, Anne Meyer-Wilber didn’t fully understand the power of such simple pleasures as the sight of trees in full bloom or the sounds of birds chirping in those trees.
The Sunday Bus, sponsored by the Penn Yan Area Council of Churches, picks up shut-ins and nursing-home residents each Sunday morning and transports them to services at the churches within the Village of Penn Yan. Realizing that this is many of those riders’ only outing all week, the bus drivers sometimes will drive a few minutes out of their way to allow the riders to get a glimpse of flowers or trees that have just blossomed, Meyer-Wilber said.
“To do just those little things means so much to the people that are riding the bus,” she remarked. “I saw things through different eyes after that.”
The Sunday Bus began its weekly runs more than 25 years ago and is entirely operated by volunteers, according to its coordinator, Jennifer Jensen. The team has four drivers, who each volunteer to spend one Sunday morning every four weeks behind the wheel of the handicapped-accessible van rented from Penn Yan Manor Nursing Home, Jensen said. Each of the five participating churches provides a team of additional volunteers for one month at a time, and these volunteers help the riders board and disembark from the bus and keep them company during the ride.
Some of the riders are in wheelchairs, which need to be loaded onto the bus’ lift and then strapped into place inside the bus, and other riders use walkers and are able to sit in the seats on the bus, Jensen said.
“You never know how many you’re going to have on Sundays because of sickness and health issues of elderly people, but we’re averaging about five people (per week) right now,” Jensen said.
Several volunteers meet the bus when it arrives at each church and help the riders make their way inside and get settled, she said.
“When church is over we’re back there to pick them up and take them back to their residence,” she added. “It’s a ministry that is unique to Penn Yan, I believe. We’re a special little town, and we really like to do for our residents everything we can.”
Quite a few of the current riders are parishioners of Our Lady of the Lakes and attend Mass at St. Michael Church in Penn Yan, Jensen said. Meyer-Wilber, who coordinates Our Lady of the Lakes’ Sunday Bus volunteers, said about 10 or 12 volunteers from the parish regularly help out on the bus, and several of them bring their children as well.
“Several little kids (help) with their dads, which has been really nice because then the kids make a connection with the older people,” Meyer-Wilber said.
Driver Stan Ovens, who has been volunteering on the Sunday Bus for at least 15 years, said it’s an honor to be able to provide a way for the riders to attend Mass and interact with their community.
“Being able to get to their church is so important to them, and it gives them a break in their week and gives them a chance to get away from their facility. It’s just an opportunity for them to be included in the community, to not be isolated just because they’re in a facility,” Ovens said.
The Sunday Bus and its volunteers provide a wonderful service, agreed Rosie Weller and Helen Stewart, who reside at The Homestead Nursing Home and takes the bus to Mass at St. Michael.
“I would not be able to worship in my church without this being available. Being able to see other people and my friends is a special time of my week,” Weller said.
“I look forward to Sunday mornings when … I am able to enjoy fresh air and getting out to worship with others in church,” Stewart added.