(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — The Brazos Valley Health Partnership awarded four mini-vans Thursday to the Brazos Valley Area Agency on Aging, which now assumes management of a free health transportation service providing rural residents rides to health related appointments.

The Brazos Valley Health Partnership provided four vans to the Brazos Valley Area Agency on Agency, which will manage the free regional transportation system. Pictured are, from left, Monica Wendel, associate director of the Center for Community Health Development for the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health and principal investigator of the federal grant to purchase the vans; Dr. Ciro Sumaya, dean of the HSC School of Rural Public Health; Don Strickland, chair of the Brazos Valley Health Partnership; Tom Wilkinson, executive director of the Brazos Valley Council of Governments; Dr. Jim Burdine, director of the Center for Community Health Development; Angie Alaniz, executive director of the Brazos Valley Health Partnership; and Ronnie Gipson, manager of the Brazos Valley Area Agency on Aging.

Brazos Valley Health Partnership (BVHP) officials presented keys to the vans to the Brazos Valley Area Agency on Aging (BVAAA) in a morning ceremony at the Center for Regional Services in Bryan. The Center for Community Health Development at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health manages a federal grant for the transit system on behalf of the BVHP, which developed the service.

“When transportation was identified as the top need for rural residents in this community, the Brazos Valley Health Partnership looked at what other communities were doing,” said James Burdine, Dr. P.H., director of the HSC School of Rural Public Health Center for Community Health Development. “We were able to combine several models based on our community’s unique needs and resources, and this free transportation system has made a huge impact.”

Joining Dr. Burdine at the ceremony were Tom Wilkinson, executive director of the Brazos Valley Council of Governments; Ronnie Gipson, BVAAA manager; Don Strickland, BVHP chairman; Angie Alaniz, BVHP executive director; Ciro Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., dean of the HSC School of Rural Public Health; and Monica Wendel, M.A., M.P.H., associate director of the Center for Community Health Development and principal investigator of the federal grant to purchase the vans.

The vans were part of a pilot project to offer free transportation to residents of rural counties surrounding Brazos County. In 2004, Madison County became the first county to implement the service, which depends on volunteer drivers recruited from the community.

Burleson County followed last year, and additional vans recently were purchased to establish parallel services in Grimes and Leon counties. Since its inception, more than 2,000 rides have been given to residents of Madison and Burleson counties.

In August 2005, the BVHP issued a call for proposals to receive ownership of the vans and manage the transportation system. The BVAAA was chosen, and the organization will work with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to continue recruiting volunteer drivers. Those interested in driving can contact Gipson or Carolyn Kraus at (979) 595-2800.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.

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