Convertible raffle funds Little Brothers medical transport

HANCOCK – Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly has announced the kickoff of its 2014 Ford Mustang Convertible Sweepstakes, a fundraiser to support its medical transportation program, which last year gave area seniors over 1,500 free rides to medical appointments.

There’s not much cooler than riding top down in the summertime, especially with tickets only $3, but one thing that might top it is the feeling of helping an elderly neighbor, according to Little Brothers Director of Development Mark Cinelli.

“They’re very grateful,” Cinelli said. “It’s not just the financial aspect, but the social aspect. It becomes a social visit, too. … It’s one of the aspects of this job that make it a lot of fun.”

Cinelli said the program is open to anyone over 60 who doesn’t have friends or family available to give a ride. There aren’t any income requirements, but many of the senior friends are on minimum Social Security or live in rural areas that make using city transit buses impossible, and cabs prohibitively expensive.

“Last time I made a trip to Calumet by cab, it was $15 one-way. That’s money a lot of people don’t have,” he said, adding that “once you get outside of the two-city area, your options drop off dramatically.”

Others may be able to afford cabs or buses, Cinelli added, but don’t feel safe without an arm to lean on outside the vehicle. Little Brothers’ drivers – about 75 percent volunteer – can offer extra support by waiting in the doctor’s office or making an extra stop at the pharmacy on the way home.

Raye Holly, a senior who lives at Lakeview Manor in Hancock, uses the service to get to Portage Hospital for dialysis as often as three times a week. It’s not a long trip, and she’ll sometimes take the Hancock transit bus home, or ride it when scheduling is tricky, but she said the cost of the bus trips would add up fast if she had to pay every time.

More importantly, she said of Little Brothers, “They’re wonderful. I have a really good rapport with the drivers. They go out of their way to help.”

Her regular driver, transportation program director Michelle Kovachich, has become a friend who helps out with other needs as well, she said, and has helped keep her involved in programs like senior aerobics and birthday and holiday celebrations.

Holly urged the public to buy tickets and support the program.

“I’m going to buy my tickets,” she said. “If I win, I’m going to give the car to my daughter.”

Cinelli said the car itself is a 2007 Mustang, white with a black rag-top and around 25,000 miles. Other prizes in the raffle include an Apple iPad Air Tablet computer, two cords of firewood, a Garmin Nuvi 44 auto GPS, and a dozen assorted 9 oz. jars of Keweenaw’s Bounty Jams and Jellies.

He said the goal for the raffle is to net $55,000 after expenses, which will go for insurance, gas and maintenance for Little Brothers fleet of wheelchair vans and other vehicles.

The convertible raffle should not be confused with Little Brothers’ other ongoing raffle, being held to purchase a new truck to haul free firewood for elders. That raffle has $40 tickets and a cash grand prize of $20,000, if all tickets are sold.

Cinelli said Little Brothers is also seeking volunteer drivers for the medical transportation program, as well as donations for their medical loan closet, which offers wheelchairs, walkers, shower seats, canes and other equipment to anyone in need.

Cinelli said anyone who’d like to buy tickets or volunteer for any of Little Brothers’ programs can stop by their Hancock office, call them at 482-6944, or find them on the web at houghton.littlebrothers.org.