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The ‘Freedom Express’

The Wickenburg Freedom Express offers transportation to older adults Monday through Friday.

The Wickenburg Freedom Express offers transportation to older adults Monday through Friday.

Transportation program assists older adults.

In Wickenburg, Ariz., you drive or you walk.

The 6,000-person town offers no public transportation. Worse yet, residents 60 years or older comprise 40 percent of its population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response, The Salvation Army helped form the Wickenburg Freedom Express (WFE), which began providing free transportation to Wickenburg residents 60 years of age or older in January. Since then, it has served over 40 clients.

“The Salvation Army Service Extension Unit has been quietly providing assistance for years,” said BJ Dorman, Salvation Army Southwest divisional director of legacy gifts. “The once-a-year Red Kettle bell ringers have been the only visibility in town, until now.”

Dorman and Charlie Petersen, director of the Wickenburg Wise Owl Senior Center and chairman of the Wickenburg Salvation Army Service Extension Unit, partnered with the Wickenburg Community Services Corporation, the Foundation for Senior Living and the Town of Wickenburg to launch the initiative.

IMG_0412Older adults must request the service via a dedicated telephone line 24 hours in advance. The WFE rides Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Destinations include doctors’ offices, stores, and even the Wise Owl Senior Center for lunch.

“I’ve had surgery and can’t drive. [The WFE] picked me up at the hospital, took me home and [has] been taking me back and forth…three times a week,” said Laeticia Bertolucci, a WFE rider. “The drivers are awesome. We are blessed to have this service in Wickenburg.”

WFE runs solely on volunteers to keep costs down. The Salvation Army Southwest Divisional Headquarters screens all WFE volunteers.

SPEA_CycloneMaria“I love helping people get out and about,” said Jinny Jackson, a volunteer driver.

The Service Extension Unit funded the vans for WFE, primarily through Red Kettle donations. There’s also a modified counter kettle in each vehicle welcoming donations.

“The two Salvation Army vans are now seen driving all around town every day,” Dorman said. “This presence will increase the giving of local residents when they can actually see The Salvation Army making a difference in the lives of seniors in their town.”

Next year, the Army plans to relocate its WFE office to the Wise Owl Senior Center to grow its client base.

“Our future looks bright,” said Carrie Ward, WFE transportation manager. “As more people make a habit of using the program, more people will become aware of the program. Ridership will grow and hopefully our coverage area will expand to include neighboring rural communities who desperately need more freedom, too.”

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