BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN
Each year, volunteer drivers with Sudbury?s RideShare program gives about 11,000 rides to young families who have no other way of getting to medical, therapeutic and daycare programs.
But RideShare?s main source of funding - the Ontario Early Years Challenge Fund - was originally established by the Harris Conservative government. The provincial Liberals have no plans to continue the program after next March.
If another source of funding is not found for RideShare, 65 percent of its clients will have to be turned away. The program receives about $170,000 every year from the province.
?The Ontario Early Years Challenge Fund was started by the (Progressive) Conservatives, but now that we?ve voted in the Liberal government, they have no plans to replace that pot of money,? said Brenda Swalm, co-ordinator of RideShare.
?Without that money, RideShare will basically cease to exist or will have to be very much scaled down.?
RideShare, one of two programs run by Grassroots Economic Opportunity Development and Evaluation (GEODE), is a great service that means a lot
to families with no cars, says Swalm.
The program works in partnership with a number of children?s organizations in Sudbury, including Our Children, Our Future, Child Care Resources and the Children?s Treatment Centre.
?We get people thanking us all the time. If they weren?t getting to their appointments this way, it would either really complicate their lives or cost a great deal more,? she says.
?A lot of the families are dealing with a lot of high-stress situations, so transportation is just an extra problem they don?t need. With the rides, they can actually get to medical appointments and not worry about cancelling.?
Although clients could always take the bus, this isn?t always the best option, says Swalm. It sometimes takes four hours to go to a one hour program on the bus and carrying a baby on public transportation can be extremely awkward.
RideShare is kept going by an army of volunteer drivers, who are mostly retired and want something positive to do with their time. They are reimbursed for their gas.
?They just want to stay connected with the community, love children and love to drive. Those are the people who usually are attracted to doing this.?
Swalm has been in contact with Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci, and has set up a meeting with him in late November.
She hopes the politician will find another source of provincial funding for RideShare. Local funding organizations like the United Way can only provide about $20,000 a year - not enough to keep her program going, says Swalm.
?I?m hopeful. Sometimes it just takes a little shining of light on a particular issue before our government takes a look at the issue. They may come up with another pot of money.?