dispatch center to aid seniors, disabled
By Jeff Gallatin
Published May 25, 2005
regional call and dispatch center for senior and disabled citizens
transportation services, believed to be the first of its kind in
the country, has opted to use some familiar names to get the new
service off the ground.
F.I.R.S.T. (First Integrated Regional Senior Transportation Consortium)
will be located in the old Horizons Activities Center building on
Butternut Ridge Road in North Olmsted. It is adjacent to Kiwanis
Club property, with that agency also backing the use of the old
building to provide help for those in need.
The first director and coordinator will be Don Copeland, who is
retiring next week after 30 years as director of the City of North
Olmsted Department of Human Resources. And the centralized call
and dispatch center will be using computers and software provided
through the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority for setting
up the programs designed to make sure transportation is found and
sent out for senior citizens and disabled persons served by the
groups participating in the F.I.R.S.T. partnership.
have been busy renovating the building this month to prepare it
for the installation of furnishings and equipment in the next several
"It's the first program of its kind in an urban setting in the country,"
said Copeland. "It will provide a much needed service for people
and groups which need those kind of transportation services."
Copeland said word about the program is spreading. He said a presentation
about it is being made at a national transportation services conference
this week in St. Louis.
"We've got several groups from Cuyahoga County already participating
in it and we've got a good possibility of others joining up," Copeland
Already included in the F.I.R.S.T. partnership group are NOCOP (the
North Olmsted Commission on Paratransit, Inc.), which has served
North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township for several years;
QCP (Quality Communities Partnership Inc., which has Berea, Brookpark,
Columbia Township, Middleburgh Heights, Olmsted Falls, Strongsville
and Southwest General Health Center), and STS (Southeast Senior
Transportation which has Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, the Jennings
Center for Older Adults and Marymount Hospital).
New Avenues to Independence Inc., a non-profit group serving disabled
citizens, has endorsed using the property to benefit disabled citizens.
In addition, a presentation about it was made at a meeting of the
Westshore Council of Governments earlier this month.
"It was very well-received," said North Olmsted Mayor Thomas O'Grady.
"I'd say there is a good possibility you'll see some other cities
and agencies taking part in it relatively soon. Mr. Copeland is
very qualified to talk about and help organize the services for
the organization. He's a very persuasive individual when it comes
to providing help for those who need it."
O'Grady said having it placed in the old Horizons Center is appropriate.
"When the city bought it originally it was for use by seniors and
disabled children," O'Grady said. "When it was empty, it was vandalized
and we've had to fix it up a little. We're glad that it's going
to be used for senior and disabled services again by having the
call center for dispatching transportation in there. We've had good
partners in the Kiwanis Club next door as well.'
Copeland said it was a case of North Olmsted having something that
was needed at the right time.
"Southwest General (Health Center) was going to provide space but
it didn't have enough room for all the operations and eventual expansion
planned for it," Copeland said. "So, we got involved in finding
a home for it. The city had been looking at what to do with the
Butternut Ridge Property and this seemed to fit the plan to have
it continue to provide needed services."
An $80,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation through
the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners is helping get the center
"It's a three-year renewable grant which has helped considerably,"
He said F.I.R.S.T. is only the initial step in a countywide program
designed to aid seniors called the Senior Transportation Connection
of Cuyahoga County.
"That's another reason it's so important that we've been able to
get several groups from throughout the county involved," Copeland
said. "We'll be able to show how it can handle calls from all over
and not just one small area."
A key component to handling those calls and then dispatching transportation
is the computers and Trapeze software provided by RTA via a licensing
extension. With an estimated value of $110,000, the RTA contribution
was vital to a new non-profit service agency, Copeland said.
"We couldn't have afforded it on our own," said Copeland. "It was
a very generous move by RTA officials."
RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese said helping out was a natural
move for RTA.
"Part of our job is to provide services which aid the disabled and
others in need," Calabrese said.
Both Copeland and Calabrese noted that the dispatch functions are
supposed to move to an RTA facility as part of the Senior Transportation
Connection work within the next few years.
"This is a good example of a variety of agencies coming together,"
North Olmsted Planning Director Kim Wenger said that cooperation
will have long-term benefits.
"It's a great example of how regionalization can benefit the area
in certain services," she said.
Copeland said the new center will be able to utilize experience
already gained by participating groups like NOCOP in handling transportation
needs. He said officials hope to have the full center operational
sometime this fall.
"It's quite an undertaking but will provide something which will
benefit a lot of people," he said.