Brookfield senior citizens van driver Dorothy “Dori” Yez, right, helps Shirley Ferenczy load her groceries into the van.

Brookfield senior citizens van driver Dorothy “Dori” Yez, right, helps Shirley Ferenczy load her groceries into the van.

Diane Ost slides into the passenger seat of the Brookfield senior citizens van, and hands driver Dorothy “Dori” Yez a plastic grocery bag.

“I have some new books for you,” Ost said, passing on volumes she had read to a new reader.

Close relationships develop between drivers and passengers of the van but few people get to experience it anymore. Yez is the only regular driver – she drives two days a week – and asked the township trustees at their Feb. 5 meeting to find a way to attract more; at least one to back her up when she gets an emergency call from her son asking her to look after her nearly 2-year-old grandson.

“I don’t know if there’s a solution to this,” Yez said. “It breaks my heart to have to tell my son, ‘Sorry, I gotta go drive the van.’”

Yez wants to spend as much time as she can with her grandson, but she is devoted to her riders and understands the importance she plays in their lives. When they set up doctor’s appointments, they do so around the van schedule, and she doesn’t want her riders to miss an appointment, she said.

The trustees put out a call at each regular meeting for van drivers, and have publicized the need through social media. However, the number of drivers has fallen from three to one in recent years. At one time, the van ran five days a week.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Trustee Mark Ferrera. “We’re looking for ideas.”

Ost, who drove the van years ago and volunteered at a nursing home when she was more mobile, said she gets so much from volunteering, and feels good for doing it. 

Yez said the connection she feels with her riders keeps her going.

“They’re all so sweet and appreciative; at least, the ones that I have taken,” Yez said.

Ost, who can’t drive because of a medical condition, falls into the appreciative category. She said her son can take her to the grocery store and other places she has to go. However, he works during the day, severely limiting his ability to get her to the doctor.

“If I didn’t have this, I’d be screwed,” said Ost, 69.

Shirley Ferenczy has been riding in the van for about 20 years, since she developed a medical condition that renders her unable to drive, she said. Now 83, Ferenczy said she “feel(s) like I’m 65” and has come to terms with relying on others to get her around.

“You just have to set your mind to it,” said Ferenczy, who once walked about two miles to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription when she didn’t have transportation.

“When you can no longer drive, you have to accept it.” she said. “Eventually, you’ll accept it.”

Although it’s called the senior citizens van, the van is basically open to anyone who needs a ride, as long as they can get in and out of the 2019 Dodge Grand Caravan themselves, said township Office Coordinator Tabatha Dickson, who oversees the van program.

There is little required of people who want to drive – a clean driving record and no recent traffic-related crimes nor other crimes on their criminal records, Dickson said. Yez said she likes that the township reimburses drivers whose background checks come back clean.

The drivers are not paid, and riders, who must live in Brookfield or Masury, pay between $3 and $7 a ride, depending on where they go. Riders can get a lift to any location from Youngstown to Hermitage, but most go to doctors’ offices and grocery stores, Yez said.

Yez, who has driven the van for about two years, helps people get their groceries in and out of the van, and used to help a vision-impaired rider do her shopping. She even visited a former rider when he was in the hospital.

“You get attached to the people,” she said.

Yez said she takes seriously that she is safeguarding her riders for the time they are in the van.

“I am known for not being on time and having a bit of a lead foot,” she said. “This has taught me to be on time and drive the speed limit.”

Anyone interested in driving the van or riding in it can call Dickson at 330-448-4500.

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