Oftentimes, those with disabilities are treated as an afterthought or not provided the resources they need to live their lives the way they would like. Jamaica Miller, the founder of Wheels of Hope who is also visually impaired, sought to change that.
Miller was inspired to start Wheels of Hope when she participated in Georgia Council of the Blind’s meetings. The program advertised transportation to the meetings but did not follow through with the rides. This meant that Miller and her helper had to drive participants from other counties to the meetings.
Miller wanted to start the nonprofit because other ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber aren’t user-friendly to those with disabilities. For example, those services don’t walk riders to the door of the location and often drop-off clients in the relative area rather than the door of the establishment.
Drivers for Wheels of Hope pick up the client at the predetermined location and stay with them for the entirety of their trip. If the rider has a doctor’s appointment or runs errands, the driver will sit in the waiting room and help them with shopping, respectively. However, if the client is going to a class the driver will drop the rider off and come back to pick them up rather than staying for the duration of the class, Coral Rogers, executive director, said.
Sonja Slate, a retired registered nurse, appreciates the service because it relieves a lot of anxiety and gets her out of the house.
“It’s made my life significantly easier. I actually start making appointments I wouldn’t [normally] make,” Slate said. “It definitely decreases isolation.”
Clients are also put at ease because they typically have the same driver once they’ve used the service a few times.
Right now, the nonprofit utilizes a small pool of volunteers to drive clients. Rogers and Joe James will often drive the clients their volunteers can’t pick up. To relieve some stress, Rogers has applied for grants, like the Community Development Block Grant, so the organization can hire some drivers. This would also leave time for Rogers and James to focus on building the volunteer base.
Wheels of Hope also differs from ride-sharing services because they have a maximum set price of $20 per round trip, whereas other options can become expensive depending on distance and peak hours. For example, one of the company’s clients lives in Bishop and would’ve gotten charged $150 to get to their appointment, Rogers said.
The $20 cap allows those who have a low income and are disabled to get around town without putting a significant dent in their wallet other services would.
In the near future, the nonprofit would like to expand to cover all of Northeast Georgia once they feel like the program is solidified in Athens, Rogers said.
To help get the word out about the organization, Miller visits groups and individuals to tell them about Wheels of Hope. She also helps plan fundraising events and has high hopes for the Music for Mobility event at Hendershot’s Coffee.
Miller said the event is “a really neat way” to get the community involved with Wheels of Hope. She’s also very excited because she enjoys “going out and meeting new people.” Miller will also perform as part of one of the acts at the event.