Donna Thing, a volunteer for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, or KVCAP, pulls her Honda Accord into the driveway Wednesday at the Oakland residence of Margaret Ferguson, in the back seat. Thing had given Ferguson a ride from a medical appointment at Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville. KVCAP says it needs many more volunteer drivers. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Fifteen years ago, Donna Thing became a volunteer driver for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program after she learned she could get mileage reimbursement from it, with no danger of losing her health coverage through MaineCare.

She figured she would drive three hours a day, but quickly decided to increase to 45 to 50 hours a week.

“I fell in love with this job,” said Thing, who will turn 64 next month. “It’s a service you can really put your heart into because you’re doing a good thing and it’s important to get there on time. I treat my clients the way I’d want my volunteer driver to treat my parents.”

Thing is from Skowhegan and is one of 52 people who use their vehicles up to seven days a week to drive others to medical and social service appointments, child care visits and other places. They are not considered employees of KVCAP, which has between 40 and 50 paid van and Kennebec Explorer shuttle drivers, according to Steve Soule, who recruits volunteers for the agency, a nonprofit group that for more than 40 years has provided services to people in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

But the number of volunteer drivers has fallen recently from 94, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and KVCAP needs more, Soule said.

Current volunteers, who range in age from 24 to 80, come from many communities, including Augusta, Jackman, Palmyra, Skowhegan, Vassalboro and Waterville. They may drive as many miles as they wish during the week and are provided cellphones.


“Some of them have been driving for about 20 years,” Soule said, “and some of them started six months ago.”

Thing gets twice as much money in mileage reimbursement as she gets in disability payments, she said. She drives people to cancer appointments, dialysis, child visitations, doctor visits and therapists throughout central Maine, and has gone to Boston hospitals several times.

Having cirrhosis of the liver, Crohn’s disease and arthritis, Thing said she can relate to the issues her customers face. She listens to their stories and engages them in conversation if they want to talk.

“I don’t shut up,” she said. “My family tells me I talk too much, and I tell them they listen too little. My clients bare their soul and I try to comfort them.”

Thing drove her gray Honda Accord on Wednesday from the KVCAP office on Water Street in Waterville’s South End to Northern Light Inland Hospital on Kennedy Memorial Drive to pick up Margaret Ferguson, 53, and drive her to her home a few miles away, off Webb Road in Oakland.

Ferguson said she had been diagnosed with diabetes, which requires her to attend medical appointments about once a week. She depends on the KVCAP driver service, which does not charge her for the rides.

“I wouldn’t be able to go to my appointments without it,” she said. “My husband works, so it’s hard for him to take me to my appointments.”

Soule said those interested in becoming a volunteer driver should call him at 207-859-1631.

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