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Not for Profit: Dial-A-Ride

Oct. 27, 2006 – St. John's Dial-A-Ride program keeps seniors over age 65 and physically disabled people on the go.
"They're a nice bunch of people," says Dial-A-Ride driver Dean Thomas of his riders.
A St. John Community Foundation program, Dial-A-Ride got its start more than 15 years ago — no one seems to remember quite when — to meet the needs of people who needed transportation from their homes. They couldn't trek out to the main road to catch the bus or hitchhike, so Dial-A-Ride rode to the rescue. Thomas often makes trips for disabled visitors.
Carole DeSenne, the Community Foundation's director, says Thomas goes way beyond his job description to make life easier for the island's seniors.
"Last week he took them fishing," she says.
The half-dozen seniors who regularly use the service are an outdoors-minded bunch of people who enjoy picnics and activities like fishing, Thomas says.
Occasional rider June Bell Barlas also has nice words for Thomas and the Dial-A-Ride Service.
"He's patient, he's kind and goes out of his way," she says.
Thomas, 47, also provides rides to many other St. John residents who need a lift to the grocery store or the doctor, but have no interest in the social activities.
Once a month, Thomas says, he rounds up seniors for a shopping trip to Kmart, Cost-U-Less and Plaza Extra on St. Thomas because he finds prices there more reasonable than those on St. John.
When a blind St. John resident needed dialysis at Schneider Regional Medical Center, Thomas took him across on the ferry, used his own car to get the man to the hospital and then brought him back home. He also picks up prescriptions so seniors don't have to make the trip.
DeSenne says Thomas is savvy about finding free medical screenings for the seniors, and takes them to and from the location. When necessary, he works weekends to take seniors to funerals. On his weekends off he picks up items at St. Thomas stores that are not available on St. John. A St. Thomas resident raised on St. John, Thomas takes the ferry each day to get to work on St. John.
The past decade has seen Thomas work on and off as a Dial-A-Ride driver after a mixed bag of a career. Thomas worked as a chauffeur for the former St. John administrator, the late Roy Sewer; managed a Church's Fried Chicken in Atlanta; worked as a road surveyor; worked construction for what became the Westin Resort and Villas; and drove a taxi.
Thomas and his wife, Carmen, have three sons: Dean Jr., De-Shawn and De-May.
The program has a budget of $65,000 a year, with funding coming from the United Way of St. Thomas-St. John, the government's Human Services Department and private contributions.
Rides cost $1 each. For more information, call Dial-A-Ride at 643-7335.
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