By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Mobility and cognition are just two issues that can block older people like a hard concrete wall. Some folks have to give up driving, some may have a difficult time walking, and others need a caregiver to look after them. But most want to get out and about and be social. That’s where Urban Excursions can come to the rescue. In a nutshell, Urban Excursions is an organization that provides door-to-door social outings for elderly people who have problems with mobility and cognition.
Polly Bangs, a resident of Northeast Portland, came up with the idea of Urban Excursions after her father was diagnosed four years ago with dementia.
“I moved him into my home and became his caregiver,” said Bangs. “Although he had dementia, he was active and liked to do things, but his mobility wasn’t the greatest. He didn’t have the cognitive ability to create activities for himself or do things like catch a bus. It wasn’t safe for him to walk around because he might get lost because it was a new neighborhood for him.”
Caring for her dad was very important to Bangs, but she became frustrated after returning home from her regular job to find that he wanted her to entertain him. She needed to find something for him to do. Adult day care centers and senior centers weren’t an option, because that meant she would have to get him there in the morning and pick him up after work. So Bangs created Urban Excursions.
“Urban Excursions is weekly social outings for seniors,” explained Bangs. “It’s similar to the activity buses that assisted living facilities have. It helps seniors who are living with their adult children or people who aren’t driving anymore. These are people who want to stay in their homes as long as they can. That’s called aging-in-place. But these people still want to be part of the community. They want to be social.”
To get started, you can simply look at the website (urbanexcursionspdx.com) or call (503) 860-1655. A specialist from Urban Excursions will meet with the client in his/her home and a loved one. The specialist creates a safety profile that covers such things as mobility, cognitive issues, medications that have side effects, and the pickup and drop off protocol.
You can choose from two different types of outings. One is for people who are further along with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Overstimulation is not good in such cases. The other package is for more active people and is more exploratory.
The first outing is free. If you like it, you can select a package of four or eight outings. The cost is usually between $260 and $290 a month. That gets people out once a week, but there is no time limit on when to use the outings. For some people the outing is every other week. For others it may be once a month.
“We own the buses and they are permitted by the City of Portland,” added Bangs. “Each outing has five to ten people, and we can accommodate two wheelchairs. It’s staffed by two people. We have a cruise director who is the tour guide. We provide itineraries and really creative outings, including seasonal outings and cultural outings.”
Typical outings in the past have included tulip festivals, farmer’s markets, outdoor music events, ethnic festivals, museums, and movies.
For most of us, creating a new business may seem a daunting task, but for Bangs, it was nothing new. That’s because she has an extensive background in social entrepreneurship and businesses that do good for the community.
From 2004-2007, Bangs owned a restaurant called Pasta Bangs, which was located on Mississippi Avenue. She employed homeless and at-risk youth in some of the entry-level positions. In 2007, she sold the business to start a non-profit called Urban Opportunities, which was a spinoff of the restaurant idea. It was an after-school job-training program and found jobs through partnerships with companies for kids who graduated from the program. Because the recession in 2008 affected the program, she partnered with Voodoo Doughnuts to get a van and keep the kids employed as a mobile doughnut business. After she got serious funding for the program, she moved it over to Impact NW in 2010, and it is still going.
As far as Bangs knows, Urban Excursions is the only program of its kind in the nation. “It’s just great to see the interaction and friendships that develop,” noted Bangs. “That alone makes it all worthwhile.”