“We have a brand new bus, and we have Mayor Avedisian and Senator Reed to thank for that new bus,” Meg Underwood, the director of the Pilgrim Senior Center, said Thursday afternoon to more than 40 happy center members.
Mayor Scott Avedisian and Senator Jack Reed, along with representatives from the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and staffers from the city's Senior Services Division, were on hand, as each of them helped in securing funds for a handicapped accessible van for Warwick’s Transwick senior transportation program. They gathered for a brief speaking event and ribbon cutting in front of the 16-passenger van that can accommodate two wheelchairs.
While the city paid $16,000 for the van, Reed secured funds for RIPTA through the Federal Transit Authority for its purchase. The city received $60,000 in aid.
Additionally, RIPTA was able to partner with not only Warwick, but also Johnston, Pawtucket, North Providence and Woonsocket to help municipalities obtain Transwick vans and/or buses at low costs.
“We’re very thankful to Senator Reed for going out there and identifying the federal grants that were necessary for us to get this bus,” Avedisian said, also expressing thanks to RIPTA. “It’s not every day that we can buy a bus of this magnitude for $16,000. It’s a great win for the city of Warwick.”
Avedisian went on to say that Underwood and her staff are “great advocates” for seniors, and that they are always pushing for new vehicles. Reed also praised Underwood for her ability to provide seniors with a safe environment at the center, and commended the Transwick system and it’s drivers.
“She’s emblematic of all the good people that have worked in this senior center,” he said of Underwood, noting that Transwick drivers are more than just chauffeurs; “they are fellow shoppers, councilors, and I think a couple of them are comedians, too. They keep the seniors laughing and entertained.”
Avedisian also spoke of the importance of Transwick. The program provides seniors and adults with disabilities with inexpensive transportation to accomplish everyday activities, including grocery and retail shopping, doctor appointments, banking and more.
“In nearly 30 years, Transwick has grown from providing basic bus services to becoming a program of great opportunities for seniors and adults with disabilities to maintain independence and also to enjoy recreational trips,” Avedisian said, noting that thousands of seniors use the Transwick program each year.
Center members Bea Faiola, 84, and Joann Cushing, 66, who regularly ride the bus, were asked to help Avedisian and Reed snip the ribbon. They also expressed their excitement for the bus.
“I think it’s wonderful because we needed a new one,” said Faiola, who rides the bus to the center everyday from her home in Buttonwoods. She’s been visiting the center for various activities like singing and dancing for 11 years. “It’s a coin to come here and a coin to go back. What’s that cost? A dollar? That’s cheap.”
Cushing has also been visiting the center for more than a decade for two and three times a week. She agrees that the bus is great.
“I have MS, so I’m not able to drive,” she said. “Transwick has been my lifeline in getting out of the house. There are so many activities here – exercising, cards, movies – it certainly beats sitting at home.”
And while she doesn’t ride the bus, center member Rita Cerenne, 65, was happy for her friends who do.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “There are people that can use it.”
Underwood said the van is vital to seniors, as they rely on it to run errands, and also for a social life. With the budget being as tight as it is, the gift of a new bus is a blessing.
“We have so many riders that depend on this service,” Underwood said. “They would really be at a loss if they didn’t have Transwick. Some seniors don’t have family and they are living alone. This is their family; we are their family.”