Charity Spotlight: Changing Lives One Ride at a Time
Founder: Vivienne Gellert
CEO: Eric Barr
Annual Budget: $330,000
Elaine is the brainchild of Vivienne Gellert, who created the organization when she was a pre-med student at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. She noticed emergency rooms were filled with people who didn’t know how to access timely and appropriate care, so she created Elaine as Arizona’s first health navigation and transportation system for those experiencing homelessness. The organization is named after Elaine Herzberg, a woman experiencing homelessness who was struck and killed by a self-driving vehicle in Tempe.
Elaine provides access to social determinants of health locations through free, dependable and compassionate transportation for homeless and other underserved communities (elderly, low-income, uninsured, etc.). By providing rides to resources and services critical to a person’s health and well-being — including medical appointments, food banks, job and housing interviews and other necessary errands — Elaine is creating safer and healthier communities.
Most Surprising Thing About the Organization:
When Eric Barr read about Elaine, he knew he wanted to get involved. He met with Gellert, and she contacted him a little over a year later to tell him the leadership role at Elaine was available. “Vivienne and the board ended up taking a chance on me, and for that, I will be forever grateful,” he said.
According to Barr, a good portion of the team at Elaine lacked specific career experience in transportation, working with the homeless population, business management or some combination. “I guess that’s maybe to say that some major elements of this job were new to us,” he said. “But we’re all passionate about this work and will do whatever it takes to create a wonderful experience for each of our clients and continue to build our program so that some day we reach our goal of providing our services nationwide.”
While Elaine will continue to provide transportation around all social determinants of health locations, Barr said they are particularly excited to increase their presence within the healthcare community. A current pilot program aims at decreasing hospital readmission rates and no-shows to medical appointments by providing access to healthcare locations for vulnerable populations. “As we continue to fine-tune that program, we look to eventually replicate that with other healthcare providers around the Valley,” Barr said.
Demand for Elaine’s services has risen significantly in the past year. Although the organization has recently added two vehicles and drivers to its fleet, the ability to accommodate ride requests remains the biggest challenge for the team. “We are confident that the transportation system we are building is strong. We will just continue to need the funding and support to allow us to grow to meet the community where the needs are,” Barr said.
Conversations are in the works about how Elaine can expand its programming to focus on unique community needs. “Our program offers a natural flexibility that could allow us to have certain vehicles with specific focuses in addressing food insecurity by providing grocery store or food bank rides or deliveries, getting people to and from work regularly so they don’t have to worry about losing their main source of income, or redefining what access to healthcare can mean and the impact it can have,” Barr said.
For now, they are seeing where the road leads. To learn more, visit elaineaz.org.