Before becoming a non-profit organization, the founding members of Age Friendly Sisters Country (AFSC) listened to local seniors, heard their concerns, and compiled data about their needs. What they learned in those early days was that the same issues facing aging adults affected people of all ages.

Thus, AFSC was born with the guiding principle: “good for everyone, 8-80!” When the 2018 Sisters Country Vision surfaced many of the same issues and needs, AFSC realized there was real synergy between their mission and the vision goals. Since securing non-profit status in 2018, AFSC has taken a lead on several vision strategies. With the support of the City, they helped Sisters officially join the worldwide network of Age-Friendly Communities, a project of the World Health Organization (WHO) and AARP. This month, they are launching a new, free local transportation initiative, dubbed Sisters Transportation and Ride Share, or STARS.

STARS was designed to meet the needs of local community members who are struggling to access medical services because they don’t drive.

“We realized that many folks in our community were simply not availing themselves of medical services and becoming increasingly isolated,” shares AFSC Board President Toni Landis.

Before STARS, getting to the dentist in Sisters, or to Bend for a test, was a daunting task. Working with Landis under the AFSC umbrella, a team of volunteers created a FREE ride-sharing program grounded in person-to-person connection. On the surface, STARS looks similar to Lyft or Uber: users schedule a ride aided by software. But in practice, every contact point connects human to human and relies on an all-volunteer team. Passengers schedule a ride by calling a volunteer dispatcher. After the dispatcher enters their information into the software program, an email is sent to a pool of volunteer drivers. The available driver then calls the passenger to make a one-on-one connection ahead of their ride.

For now, the free service is only focused on medical rides, but AFSC hopes to see it expand over time, to help community members participate in local events, shop for groceries, or meet other needs as they arise. STARS officially launched on March 1, and they currently have 20 trained volunteers. Landis estimates they will need a pool of at least 25 drivers and 7-10 dispatchers to be able to provide consistent service.

Looking ahead, AFSC would like to expand their outreach to be more diverse and inclusive, with a focus on collaboration with younger community members and business owners.

“What’s good for a senior crossing the road also works for a young mom with a stroller!” says Landis, emphasizing AFSC’s commitment to finding solutions that make Sisters Country more livable for all ages. AFSC’s seven board members each share this commitment but have different passions and areas of focus. Defined under the 8 domains of the Age Friendly framework, these include outdoor spaces and buildings, social participation, respect and social inclusion, work and civic engagement, communication and information, community and health services, and housing — in addition to transportation.

“We’re working to expand our outreach via social media, and would love to have help with how to do this better. We would also like to hear from the community: How are we doing? Do you see a need that needs to be met?” asks Landis.

AFSC is also working collaboratively with other local organizations on additional vision strategies. Landis says they are especially excited about participating in the development of a multi-purpose community center where all ages can gather together.

“Turns out, our mission fits really well with the vision!” says Landis, “If you give people an opportunity to help, they will find a way.”

If you’d like to help AFSC or STARS, check out the AFSC facebook page or email agefriendlysisters@gmail.com for more information.

To learn more about Sisters Country Vision, visit Sisters Country Visioin.