Angels at the Wheel
Slight and sinewy, Al Falcone clocks into his job as a driver with Easy Lift at 4:30 am.
Over the course of the day the Vietnam vet will drive 15-20 dialysis patients to their lifesaving treatments, covering more than 200 miles of road. He meets them at the door, often wheeling them to his waiting van where he then loads them in and straps them down.
“When I see Al clock out, it’s as if he is just starting his shift,” says Ernesto Paredes, the executive director of Easy Lift. “He always has that same wonderful attitude. There are people in this community who are true angels, and one happens to be working at Easy Lift.”
The nonprofit has been in existence since 1979, more than a decade before the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 made clear that people with disabilities needed a level playing field. A key mandate was providing the disabled dignity through accessibility and mobility.
Paredes took the helm of Easy Lift in 1991, and set upon a “civil rights” mission to ensure that frail seniors, children, and adults with severe disabilities – both physical and mental – had the transportation they needed to live a full life.
In the years since, the organization, under Paredes’ leadership, has consistently grown and expanded its services. It’s 30-van fleet provides an average of 300 rides a day. And through Easy Lift’s Dial-a-Ride Program, anyone who needs a lift can get one for $3.50 each way. The cost to the nonprofit is $50.
This can be lifesaving. Paredes recalls when one of his clients received a call from his doctor asking him to come in that day for a cancer test. If he didn’t go then, he would have had to wait three weeks. Easy Lift got him there, where he was diagnosed with very early stage cancer. Paredes says his clients need “same day transportation. Waiting weeks for a critical test is not an option.”
And the challenge and need is only expanding.
“The graying of America has been happening,” Paredes says. “The Silver Tsunami is here and has been here. Each year the demand on our service increases exponentially.”
To meet it, Easy Lift needs more vehicles and drivers like Mr. Falcone.
Easy Lift’s mission is to fulfill our community’s need for specialized transportation to allow individuals and organizations access to essential programs and services.
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The Passenger’s Seat
“I’ve been using Easy Lift for 20 years. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them! As a music lover, Easy Lift helped me continue to enjoy the symphony, opera, and other live music events in the community. Now because of the pandemic, I use Easy Lift for medical and dental appointments.
Easy Lift vans are run hard, covering 40,000 miles a year. The organization spends at least $500,000 per year servicing them.
For Paredes, the greatest gift a donor can make is to pay the $50,000 it costs to outfit a new van, wheelchair modified with lowered floors and elevated ceilings.
That is how the organization can meet the community’s ever-growing needs.
Board of Directors
Eric Miller, President, Reverse Mortgage Advisor, American Advisors Group
Karen Johnson, Secretary, Active Passenger, Advocate for Disabled Individuals
Dave Johnson, Interim Treasurer, Retired, City of Santa Barbara Public Works Director
Matt Dentinger, Attorney, Yardi
Mac Johnson, Owner, Home Instead Senior Care
Bob Gray, Retired, Santa Barbara School District
Craig McClenllan, Remote Engineer, CIO Solutions
Roy McLaughlin, Manager & Treasurer, Santa Barbara Teachers Federal Credit Union