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A bus to bring people together

St. Joseph's church members underwent training Saturday for their new bus program. The bus picks up people who otherwise would not be able to get to church on their own.

For a handful of parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church, a new bus service could make the difference between getting to church each Sunday and staying at home alone.

The church will launch the transportation service later this month in partnership with DARTS. Each week one or two volunteers will drive a route to collect church members who wouldn't be able to get to services on their own. They'll be there to help the passengers onto the bus, get them situated and deliver them safely to church for the 10:30 Sunday service. When the service is done, they'll deliver them home again.

DARTS makes the buses available to churches and other community groups as requirement of the grant it uses to buy the vehicles. They charge $2 per mile, which for St. Joseph will add up to about $60 every Sunday for a route that currently includes 10 church members.

St. Joseph pastoral minister Shirley Rowley launched a similar program when she worked at St. Michael's Church in Farmington, and she's been trying for the past eight years to get something started in Rosemount.

"It was such a benefit for the shut-ins who couldn't get to Mass otherwise," Rowley said. "We have a couple of people in wheelchairs and they can no longer get to mass because they don't have family in the area."

Most of the people on the initial route live in Rosemount, but there are a couple in Apple Valley. Rowley said the church will start advertising the service more now that they are ready to get going. Rowley has already talked to some parishioners who have said they would like to use the bus during the winter, when they are less comfortable driving.

"One woman, she's able to get around but it would be easier for her to take a bus and be delivered at the door," Rowley said. "There's quite a distance to walk, even from the handicapped signs."

Getting the service to work will take a commitment from other church members. Rowley said a dozen people have signed up to drive the bus, or to serve as an assistant to help load and unload passengers. Several of those volunteers went through training Saturday morning to get familiar with the bus and with the rules that go along with operating it. They learned how to operate the wheelchair lift, and how to secure those chairs so they don't roll around while the bus is in motion.

John Brockman was one of those volunteers. Brockman already knows some church members who are not able to get to services on their own. And while he has offered rides to one person, he knows people aren't always willing to accept help from an individual. Make it a more formal service, he said, and people are more likely to take advantage.

Brockman thinks it's important to help people get around.

"Otherwise, older people, they feel like they can't get out," he said. "This is a nice way to help them feel a little bit more mobile."

St. Joseph will start offering the bus service the last Sunday in September. Rowley already knows that's not early enough for some people.

"I'm delighted, and so are the people," Rowley said. "There's one particular woman who's in a wheelchair who says, 'When is this going? When is this going? Because I've been praying every day.'"