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South side non-profit providing free transportation to disabled older adults, faced with financial challenges

Hermelinda Sosa wears a face mask and goggles outside her home, waiting for her ride to a medical appointment. But lately, the wait list has been growing.

SAN ANTONIO — Ride Connect Texas, a non-profit helping provide low-cost and free transportation to older disabled adults on the south side is forced to deny ride requests because there’s not enough ADA compliant vehicles to accommodate the surging demand in services.

“It’s actually heart-breaking to turn down clients. The clients need those essential rides, we can’t stop them but we’re having to deny rides because we’re full,” said Amanda Villarreal, who’s served as executive director of Ride Connect Texas for almost a year.  

The non-profit currently has three drivers who drive clients most 65 and over across the Alamo City.

Villarreal noted the drivers travel 300 miles daily to assist clients in attending medical appointments, grocery store runs and a host of other essential needs. The non-profit is also dealing with expensive gas bills amid rising prices at the pump.

“One (driver) just fueled right now for I think he said $4.15 a gallon and yesterday another one fueled at $4.19 a gallon so those prices are astronomical,” Villarreal said.

Grants, community donations, and funding through Presa’s transportation coalition keep Ride Connect Texas operating Monday through Friday. The non-profit recently received financial assistance from Community First Health Plans to compensate for fuel costs. 

Villarreal stressed it would be ideal to have at least two additional ADA compliant vehicles so more community members could be serviced.

Clients are being urged to book appointments several weeks in advance. The popularity of Ride Connect Texas has led to the organization attempting to help more than 400 people reach their destinations.

Hermelinda Sosa has recently felt the impacts of Ride Connect Texas’ predicament. But she’s grateful such a service even exists for people like her who are less fortunate financially and require extra assistance.

“I’ve lived in the south side all my life. Graduated from Harlandale down the street so you know, I’m a dinosaur,” Sosa said. “A lot of people have discovered it and realized they need it because let’s face it, a lot of people’s families can’t help them.”

The 71-year-old San Antonio native uses a walker, copes with arthritis and routinely takes medicine for depression. But her spunky attitude and uplifting spirit overshadows any physical or emotional barriers.

Sosa remembers the days of having to pay 20 bucks each way through a taxi cab just to get to a medical appointment downtown San Antonio.  

"It’s not like I get a lot of money from retirement and disability. It’s survival is what it is,” Sosa said. But now with Ride Connect Texas it’s just $10 but it’s cheaper than anything.”

Part-time driver Ralph Serrano and Sosa have grown to known each other over the years through their countless trips throughout San Antonio singing Frank Sinatra tunes or discussing what’s going on in the world of news.

“I think it’s so beneficial that we have this service. The clients are different but they’re all fantastic,” Serrano said.

Serrano, Villarreal and especially Sosa hope the community at-large grows to understand the true impact Ride Connect Texas has on the lives of so many.   

“And as the saying goes, God helps those who helps themselves so get off your butt and help yourself because someone else may not,” Sosa said.

To learn more about the mission of Ride Connect Texas, go here. 

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