Island Connections began in the mid-1990’s in response to an identified need in the Mount Desert Island community. Visiting nurses, social workers, and other health care agency professionals on MDI noticed that seniors and disabled neighbors in the community missed doctor appointments, had difficulty replenishing their food at home, and rarely got out of their homes to socialize with others. Betty Mitchell, director of the Mount Desert Nursing Association at the time, continually observed that transportation was a challenge for seniors and the disabled population.
Through the dedicated concern of area healthcare professionals and the Bar Harbor Housing Authority, the MDI Seniors Task Force was formed early in 1996. The results of a survey of more than 700 seniors and disabled confirmed that readily available transportation was the most basic necessity to maintain quality of life. The mission of “neighbors helping neighbors” was born. The Council of Churches of the Islands helped to spread the word at many church gatherings; the seed was planted and the organization now known as Island Connections: Neighbors Helping Neighbors launched!
In mid-1997, initial funding was awarded by a grant from the Faith in Action Program, underwritten by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the funds covered startup costs and the first 18 months of operation. A board of directors was recruited, and in October 1997, Michael Reisman was hired as Program Director. Island Connections received its tax-exempt, 501c-3 status in early 1998; at that time, 25 volunteers served 51 seniors and those with disabilities. With an average of 145 drives per month, Island Connections improved the quality of life for many on MDI.
Now, nearly 22 years later, Island Connections annually provides approximately 3,500 rides for 315 Neighbors, delivers 13,000 meals (averaging 250 weekly), and provides many rides in our wheelchair accessible van. We continue to thrive due to the generous time and compassion of so many, but we always need to recruit additional volunteer drivers to help us to meet the transportation needs of so many. Please consider becoming part of the Island Connections family by clicking here or contacting us at 207-288-4457.
So, now what? We are in our 22nd year of service on Mount Desert Island, we are putting a lot of effort into the sustainability of our organization. We have added new fundraising events to create greater exposure and household recognition as the number one provider of free transportation on MDI for seniors as well as people with temporary/permanent disabilities and to ensure sustainability of the organization for generations to come.