(Toledo, Ohio) – Grant money and a local partnership is helping the mission of an area nonprofit organization. Wednesday October 2nd, Bittersweet Inc., out of Whitehouse, Ohio became the proud owners of three, handicapped-accessible vans – a critical part of serving individuals with autism. Not only will this connect people to their communities, it will help update the organization’s current transportation options.
“These vans are really going to help us help our participants in being able to access the community,” Dustin Watkins, executive director of Bittersweet said. “We don’t want to be limited to just our radius around Bittersweet, we want to be able to access all of northwest Ohio.”
Bittersweet serves about 200 people, living with autism, year-round. Dedicated staff design activities to meet the needs of those across the spectrum of Autism Disorders both on and off the property, making transportation a necessity.
“[The vans] help get people to and from work and their day program and really help us expand our connection with our community,” Watkins said.
The vans were purchased using grant money provided through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The Enhanced Mobility for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program, also known as the 5310 program, provides funding to states to help nonprofit groups meet the transportation needs of older adults and people with disabilities.
“They’re awesome, gorgeous, beyond my expectations,” Watkins said.
But where does TARTA fit in to all of this?
Working alongside TMACOG (Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments) TARTA is a major player in the process. Not only is the Authority responsible for securing and purchasing the vans, TARTA’s knowledgeable mechanics will do inspections and the agency will draw down federal dollars for vehicle maintenance.
“We really try to do anything [we can], with various partners to facilitate independence,” Connor Briggs, director of paratransit services at TARTA said.
Briggs sees the need first hand. As the director of TARPS, his staff works directly with people with disabilities. Averaging about 300,000 trips a year, TARPS operators are often the only way riders can get to and from work, doctor appointments and social gatherings.
“It’s very important that they have access to various community resources, education opportunities, employment opportunities, social opportunities and anywhere that you or I go,” Briggs said.
And Bittersweet’s newest additions will allow that to happen, one ride at a time.
“We really appreciate that TARTA recognizes the work that we’re doing, and we’ve been able to work in partnership to maximize our mission,” Watkins added.
Other local nonprofit organizations have a chance to qualify for 5310 funds. TMACOG and TARTA encourage any agencies that assist with transportation needs for seniors and individuals with disabilities to explore the program.
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