CLINTON — Linda Reed can't imagine life without Friends in Action.
Reed, 44, was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that caused total blindness and means she depends on others to get her around.
That's where Friends in Action, a program at the Dewitt County Friendship Center in Clinton, comes into play, providing volunteers to drive her to the doctor and low-vision support group meetings.
"It's the very best organization, in my opinion, that's ever been there for people," Reed said. "I recommend it to anybody else that's in need."
Executive Director Paula Jiles said when she started at the Friendship Center in 2018, it had about 20 volunteers who helped drive elderly and disabled residents around the community.
But the organization has seen a drastic decline in volunteers since 2018. It currently has just four drivers, which puts the future of the service in jeopardy, Jiles said.
"That would be a sad day if that were to ever happen," Reed said. "I would love to see more people volunteer in this community and surrounding areas and fill in gaps where they're needed."
The Friends in Action program came to the Friendship Center in 2015, having originally been called Faith in Action at Dove, Inc. of Dewitt County. Steps have been taken to maintain the program through partnerships with the Dewitt County Sheriff's Office and Dove, but support from the community is nonexistent, Jiles said.
You have free articles remaining.
"They just need to know that this could be their mom, their dad," needing these services, Jiles said of the community.
Dwindling volunteer numbers have resulted in busier schedules for the four active drivers, as well as limiting places where people can be taken. For example, the program no longer takes people to get haircuts, placing a higher priority on critical trips, like doctors appointments.
A setback in 2017 happened when the Clinton Walmart closed, eliminating a primary pharmacy in the community, Jiles said.
"It's been tough, these transitions," she said, "If it could get to where it used to be, we would do 20 to 30 people a month. Now it's down to like 9 to 10 because we're just trying to transport just the doctors appointments, eye appointments, things that are essential."
Lucretia Crawford, 71, has volunteered with the program since retiring in 2011. She's one of the four volunteers that have been pulling extra weight as the numbers have decreased. She and her husband began volunteering when the program was at Dove.
Crawford said she's starting to see signs of needing rides herself, describing difficulties following two hip replacements and problems with her shoulder. Her restrictions require either two canes or walker to get around and she hopes that some day there will be volunteers to return the favor when she can no longer drive herself.
"There's a lot of good friendships that can be made when you come out of this as well," she said. "If you are in a point where you transport a person several times, you can build a relationship. And it's very possible that they need that."
Photos: Clinton and Eureka high schools at the IHSA dance competition
Contact Garrett Karsten at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @GarrettKarsten