Vets Driving Vets: 1400 Rides So Far

Program at Compeer Rochester is seeking more volunteers to address demand

By Christine Green

A little more than a year since it was launched, CompeerCORPS’ Vets Driving Vets program has given nearly 1,400 rides to local veterans.

The program started in January 2017 to address the growing need for reliable transportation among veterans in the Rochester area.

“Vets Driving Vets is meant to serve any veteran in any type of situation to get them where they need to go,” said Mike Buckpitt, an Army veteran and CompeerCorps program manager.

CompeerCorps is part of Compeer Rochester, an agency offering supportive mentoring and friendships for youths and adults living with mental illness. CompeerCorps specifically assists veterans readjusting to civilian life after they return from military service. They have been serving vets from all branches of the military for the last six years.

The program serves veterans who need rides within Monroe County and is funded through a PFC Joseph Dwyer grant for peer-to-peer support.

Veterans who use the Vets Driving Vets program often get rides to medical appointments, to visit friends and family, or to attend a variety of veteran programs and activities.

Eric Baetzold, CompeerCORPS program coordinator and a Marine Corps veteran, said that they currently assist a Korean War veteran who visits his wife’s grave twice every week with a bouquet of flowers. The same driver takes him every time and they’ve created a very special and unexpected friendship.

Baetzold pointed out that the relationships that form as a result of this program helps both drivers and riders battle isolation and loneliness. Buckpitt also noted that a multiple rider van system cannot offer drivers and riders these very important connections.

“We love having that one to one. I don’t want to use vans because it will take that unique nature away from it.”

CompeerCORPS makes it easy for riders and drivers to connect using a simple phone message system to set up appointments. A veteran who needs a ride calls the appointment line and leaves a message detailing their ride request. The program puts out a call to volunteer drivers, and, if a driver is available, they call the rider beforehand to confirm the date and time and introduce themselves. This is an easy way to break the ice between driver and rider making it that much easier for everyone involved.

Drivers are usually retired veterans who are looking for a way to give back to their community and get to know a fellow veteran. There is no minimum commitment expected from volunteers in terms of time or number of rides they must give. Volunteers can give as many or as few rides as they like. Volunteers only drive distances they are comfortable with.

Right now the need for volunteer drivers is growing rapidly, and both Buckpitt and Baetzold said they need more veterans to give rides in downtown Rochester as well as the west side of Monroe County.

Marc Shiro, an Army veteran, is a volunteer who drove over 3,000 miles with Vets Driving Vets last year. “If we don’t help each other out why are we here? Why are we put on this earth if we aren’t going to help each one another?” he said.

Roger McElwain, a Marine Corps veteran who is unable to drive himself to appointments, gets a ride every Friday from Shiro. “They have really been a miracle in the making. I don’t know what I would have done without the program. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for them. They’ve really come through for me. I’m grateful for that.”

Local veterans interested in volunteering for the Vets Driving Vets program are encouraged to visit compeerrochester.org/compeercorps or call 585-753-6862.

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