Sheryse Navarro wants to get senior citizens where they need to go, and she’s not going to let a few roadblocks stop her.
Navarro started putting together a business called Common Courtesy Kansas almost two years ago, after the Red Cross stopped providing transportation to medical appointments for elderly residents. She was working at the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas at the time.
“Where I was working, a lot of people were calling in and getting on the wait list for a senior companion,” she said, referring to a volunteer program that provides light housekeeping, transportation and other services. “They mainly wanted transportation, not a senior companion.”
About the same time, Navarro was finishing up her master’s degree in aging studies from Wichita State University.
“It became very clear and evident that their transportation options are very scarce – affordable transportation,” she said.
According to news accounts at the time, the Red Cross made 15,300 one-way trips a year, serving about 600 seniors.
The Uber ride-sharing service had recently reached Wichita, and Navarro said that seemed to offer a possible solution.
“Late at night, my brain never would stop thinking about how this should be an easy fix.”
Researching on the internet, she came across an Atlanta nonprofit called Common Courtesy that was serving as a kind of middleman between elderly residents and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. By scheduling rides, the nonprofit bridged the technology gap that exists between some elderly residents and the ride-sharing services, which use mobile apps. Some seniors may own a smart phone but not possess the dexterity to operate an app, or may not want to give their credit card information to a ride-sharing service, Navarro said.
Navarro said Common Courtesy agreed to let her become an affiliate, sharing its technology, logo and agreements with Uber and Lyft, even though her business is organized as a limited liability corporation.
She realized, however, that Uber and Lyft rides were too expensive “for seniors who are on a limited income, which is most seniors. By the time they pay for medicine and groceries, that doesn’t leave much for transportation.”
Currently, she charges customers a one-time registration fee of $15, plus $3 per ride. Navarro telephones or texts clients to let them know the driver is on the way.
In early 2018, Navarro began looking for funding from sources such as physician’s offices and government agencies to help subsidize rides. She applied to the Sedgwick County Division on Aging for a one-time, $10,000 grant. Under Navarro’s proposal, the grant would provided subsidies of up to $15 per ride for low-income individuals over 60 years old, with a limit of four rides per person. Her grant application was denied.
“In my mind, it was a good idea for a pilot program,” she said, adding, “When it comes to funding something like this, I think it’s still too new and there’s too much red tape, for lack of a better word.”
Another challenge has been reaching potential customers.
“One difficulty of starting a new business is not realizing the cost of marketing. I really just have my brochures. To reach the actual homebound person that only has access to the TV and the newspaper, that’s where I’m struggling.”
Navarro isn’t giving up. She operates Common Courtesy Kansas out of her home while holding down two part-time jobs working for an appliance store and as an aide to homebound people. Navarro said the goal of the business was always more about providing transportation than making money.
“I hate it when I say I’m ‘for profit.’ I’m nowhere by any means even close.”
Now you know
Common Courtesy Kansas
Owner: Sheryse Navarro