An elderly woman in a suburb of Chicago needed to undergo a procedure at a hospital. She also needed a ride to the hospital.
A driver arrived at her house.
The driver, in his mid-60s, accompanied the woman to his car, drove her to the hospital and entered the hospital with her. He sat right next to her, as she went through the registration process. The woman underwent the procedure and recovered.
There, at the hospital, on the same day, smiling and ready to take her home?
The same driver — an Envoy America driver. Not a family member. Not a friend. Not a neighbor. Phoenix-based Envoy America, a specialized ridesharing program that offers accompanied transportation plus companionship and assistance for senior citizens and patients, rolled in the Chicago area for the first time in May, swelling the company’s national presence to 12 markets.
“The woman would have had to stay in the hospital for a day or two had I not driven her,” says the driver, a retired business executive who asked not to be identified, citing driver-passenger confidentiality. “My wife and I, for 15 years, had experience serving as caregivers to our parents. We’ve seen how difficult it is for seniors to maintain their independence. You know what? Seniors only need a little help, and driving them, in many instances, provides that little help, that boost that helps them feel good about themselves.
“The woman I drove to the hospital,” he adds, “calls me now and then to find out how I’m doing, tells me about her family. I’ve developed a relationship with her. Around 70 percent of the people I drive sit up front with me. It’s not unusual for a ride to turn into a social occasion for my passengers.”
Envoy America Co-founder and CEO K.C. Kanaan launched the ridesharing enterprise in 2015. What drove him was his mother’s desire to remain active. He did not want her and others like her to have to worry about getting to where they wanted to go, and he wanted uber-(the prefix, not the ridesharing company) polite and uber-compassionate and uber-professional drivers to handle the transport duties. Envoy America drivers — door-to-door employees, rather than the curb-to-curb employees affiliated with traditional ridesharing companies — motor folks to all kinds of destinations around these parts, from church services to Cubs games to concert halls to grocery stores to family dinners to a weekend stay at the second home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
One client hires an Envoy America driver for his morning and afternoon commutes each workday.
Two of Envoy America-Chicago’s partners are the American Cancer Society and the Mayo Clinic.
Glencoe native and 1995 New Trier graduate Steven Wolf, now a Wilmette resident, was named to steer Envoy America’s Chicago operations. The average round trip for a booking in the Chicago area, he notes, is two-and-a-half hours, with the minimum requirement at one hour ($39).
“We’ll take them out of state or down the street,” the 41-year-old Wolf says, adding one driver in New Mexico drove a client 400 miles, one way, and then stuck around to return the client home. “Riders can request the same driver; I know of a driver who has been driving a client for three years. Our drivers — they all undergo a thorough application process, including a face-to-face interview and extensive background check, and a specialized training program — consider a position with us a calling, not a job.
“Helping service people along the North Shore is a blessing,” adds Wolf, a right wing on New Trier Green’s 1994 state championship hockey team. “I’m thrilled to be in a position to assist our senior citizens here. Aging, for many, is a tough thing. You know what often helps a senior citizen survive a tough time? A person with a big heart; we love that trait, look for that trait in our drivers. Our drivers are companions with big hearts.”
That driver/companion who made a woman’s trip to the hospital as palatable as possible has a heart the size of Texas.
And a few continents.
“Driving for Envoy America is my way of giving back,” he says. “It’s a responsibility, a large responsibility … a responsibility I take seriously. I enjoy helping senior citizens take care of their needs. The people I drive don’t consider me a chauffeur. I’m a people person. I love to interact.
“There were times, while driving, I felt like I was talking with a family member.”
To schedule a ride or to learn more about Envoy America, please call (888) 375-5558 or visit envoyamerica.com.