Seniors Around Town Founder Wiley Receives Local Jefferson Award

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(Contributed photo)
Kate Wiley, founder of Seniors Around Town, received a local Jefferson Award.

    The founder of Orinda’s innovative program that connects volunteer drivers with senior citizens who need rides is the latest recipient of a prestigious award.
    Kate Wiley, who started Seniors Around Town (SAT) 15 years ago with a state transportation grant, won April’s local Jefferson Award sponsored by the television station KPIX. She will be among 30 to 50 Bay Area recipients who will be featured on the television station and receive medals at a ceremony in January. Wiley joins fellow Orinda residents Pam and Gary Schroeder who received the award in March.
    In fact, it was Pam Schroeder who nominated Wiley for the award, noting in the nomination form, “Her commitment to the program and the needs of the seniors shines through with her positive and gracious attitude.”
    ​Schroeder pointed out how during last year’s power outages Wiley “went well beyond expectations to visit elderly riders to check in on them. Kate visited one woman, living alone in her dark, cold house without a phone, and was the woman’s only visitor for two days.”
    SAT connects senior citizens with volunteers who drive them to medical and personal appointments. While the appointments may be out of town, the program prides itself on the fact that those receiving and providing the service are Orinda residents. This, Wiley said, has been the secret to success and creates long-lasting relationships.
    The program started in 2005 with 25 rides and, last year, provided 1,421. Currently, the program averages 115 rides a month with 120 registered riders and 70 active drivers. Now funded by the Orinda Association, SAT runs on an annual $35,000 budget and has three part-time employees.
    Wiley said she hopes the recognition will help encourage more people to sign up as volunteer drivers because demand for the service continues to increase as does its scope.
    “It’s an excellent opportunity to get the word out, not only in our community, but to the broader community showing how they can set up their own program like this,” said Wiley, who has lived In Orinda since 1985 with her husband Rich Wiley. “It’s a reminder to anyone who wants to give directly back that they can.”
    During the power outages Wiley said she realized senior citizens were particularly vulnerable. As a result, SAT worked with local safety agencies to develop the Volunteer Emergency Support Program (VESP) to have volunteers check on and assist seniors during emergencies. Volunteers would get groceries and pick up prescriptions for home-bound seniors living alone, for example. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, with volunteers doing exactly that following the coronavirus outbreak.
    “We learned it is important to have an accurate database of our riders, where they live, their circumstances, and map them out so police and fire have an up-to-the-minute current database of who they need to help,” Wiley said. “Because we have such an in-depth relationship with our drivers, we can identify who to call and ask if they are interested in being part of VESP.”
    The SAT crew plans to use geographic mapping to connect seniors with volunteers who live nearby as well.
    “We have to crank it up because fire season will be here soon. We’re very aware that we’ve only got about five or six months to really get this going,” Wiley said.

(Cindy Powell, Photographer)
A cameraman films Kate Wiley and Cathy Goshorn on Seniors Around Town’s efforts to help the elderly during the coronavirus crisis. The organization was featured in a news story on KPIX, which also awarded Wiley with a local Jefferson Award.

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