First on the event’s agenda will be presenting Sid Smith with the 2009 Vanguard Award. Easy Lift Executive Director Ernesto Paredes said it was easy to choose Smith.
“Sid was instrumental over 20 years ago in garnering support from the community during a time when Easy Lift’s future was in serious doubt due to funding shortfalls. As a City Council member and nonprofit support professional, Sid’s wide array of connections and influence helped Easy Lift survive an incredibly difficult time and we owe him a debt of gratitude,” Paredes said.
Since its inception 30 years ago as a project of Easter Seals and operating with just one vehicle, Easy Lift has become a vital community presence as the sole paratransit provider of Dial-A-Ride service for South Santa Barbara County. With 22 wheelchair-accessible vans in its fleet and staffed with more than 40 employees, Easy Lift has developed a comprehensive backbone to support its operations.
By scheduling 61,000 paratransit rides per year (from Winchester Canyon to Carpinteria, 363 days per year), Easy Lift plays a vital role in not only maintaining the quality of life but enhancing the livelihood of frail elderly and those with disabilities by helping them live independently and fully participate in the community.
Easy Lift board president Mac Johnson, owner and president of Home Instead Senior Care in Santa Barbara, knows firsthand the impact declining health or a disability has on a person’s well-being. “It is clear that those without access to reliable transportation have the potential of suffering incredible loneliness and isolation,” he said. “By providing transportation, whether it’s for doctor appointments, a trip to the grocery store or going to the movies or an art exhibit, Easy Lift gives people the gift of socialization and independence.”
Passenger Dewey Everts has been using Easy Lift since he first arrived in Santa Barbara from Los Angeles nearly 10 years ago.
“When I first came to town, I couldn’t get around. I tried taking the bus, but my health was so poor that I got sick on the bus and just didn’t have the strength to continue,” he said. “When I found Easy Lift, it was the best thing that happened to me. Without Easy Lift, I couldn’t go anywhere.”
Danielle Fernandez, who moved to Santa Barbara in February, is legally blind and needs transportation to a variety of places in town, including the gym and her martial-arts and SBCC classes. She said she loves the “friendly customer service and reliable pickup times.”
Individuals who require Easy Lift’s paratransit services are either physically or cognitively impaired, and can’t feasibly use common types of public transportation such as the bus. Applicants are referred to Easy Lift by doctors, social service agencies and other caregivers. Of their 1,650 passengers, 70 percent report low income. About 38 percent use mobility devices, and 70 percent are elderly.
Easy Lift also helps during local emergencies. During the Jesusita Fire, it evacuated hundreds of seniors from convalescent hospitals and retirement communities.
With Paredes at the helm, Easy Lift has transformed from a small nonprofit program to a large organization with multiple programs and services for the community. Paredes continues to envision a greater role for the agency and is seeking ways in which Easy Lift can act as a true community partner. But, he said, “we can’t do it alone.”
“At 30 years of age, Easy Lift is at a crossroads,” Paredes said. “With declining government funding, it is becoming clear that we need assistance from the community to continue this vital service. In fact, Easy Lift could double our fleet and still fill our vans.”
For more information on Easy Lift or to purchase tickets for its 30th anniversary celebration, call 805.681.1623. Tickets are $60.
— Melinda Johansson is the community relations director for Easy Lift Transportation.