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Project CAR

March 28, 2006, 11:59 PM by Doug Lund

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Have you ever wondered about those vehicles you see running around Sioux Falls with the words "Project Car" written on the side?

Well, it’s a little known taxi service in town where the rides are free to a very special clientele.

One of the hardest things for older Americans to deal with is not being able to drive anymore. Even though they have lots yet to contribute, they're stuck.

25 years ago, pastor Barney Friesth of 1st Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls wanted to help those folks at least get to church.
Working with a couple other congregations in town, Project CAR was born.

The “car” in the words Project CAR actually stand for “call-a-ride.”

It started with a couple of used vehicles taking 13 people to and from church each Sunday.

Frank Hansen was one of the original drivers.

“We used to have a theory that just about anything that would run, that's what we would get. But in the last 10 years we've gone with the philosophy to get newer cars, not new but with enough miles that they were practical and reasonable in price,” says Hansen.

Today Project CAR has grown to four cars, two vans and a bus with 60 drivers and well over 150 regular riders.

Project CAR manager, Kate Heligas, says, “There continues to be a growing elderly population in the city of Sioux Falls so we not only bring them to church on Sunday but to a variety of activities and volunteer opportunities within those churches during the week. So the numbers continue to grow.”

Mary Stoops is one of those who gets a lift through Project CAR so she can visit the homes of shut-ins.

“It's great because I don't drive anymore and I wouldn't be able to get a lot of places, especially I couldn't be a senior companion without them,” she says.

Adair Callison is another of the longtime Project CAR drivers. Elmira Thein has been is a regular. We first visited with them a few years back.
He explained why Elmira was one of his favorites.

“She has a nickname amongst the drivers. We call her the cookie lady. She always has cookies for the drivers,” Callison says.

Elmira Thein says, “I feel sorry for the drivers. I think a lot of the times they're hungry.”

Elmira is still riding and still pampering drivers like Adair with baked goods.

Frank Hansen knows it's become a cliché for volunteers to talk about how they benefit as much as the people they help but it doesn't make it any less true.

“We have a lot of really good drivers that are dedicated and feel the same way. They just feel they get more out of it than they put into it,”Hansen says.

Mary Stoops too says lots of people would be stuck at home and alone if it weren't for Project CAR giving them a ride to places where they can volunteer their services or just be a friend to someone.

“I bring joy to other people and that makes me feel good.”

Kate Heligas says she was a little shocked the other day when she started totaling up milage.

“Since its beginning, we have traveled one and a half million miles. That's a lot of miles.
That's a tremendous amount of driving and a tremendous amount of giving from the people that have been involved in the program, she says.”

Project CAR has been so successful that other cities around the country have used it as a model to set up programs of their own.

You can call (605)332-2777 for more information about getting a ride or being a volunteer driver.

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