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Making senior transit a success

Keith Curry is always on the lookout for ways to improve transportation for seniors and the disabled

Posted: July 13, 2008 10:34 p.m.
Updated: September 14, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Keith Curry volunteers for office work at the SCV Senior Center. He has taken a proactive role in finding solutions for not only senior transportation needs but for those of all the disabled.

 
He's only in the office at the SCV Senior Center a few hours a day, a few days a week, but Keith Curry, 44, is always on the job. As a board member of the City of Santa Clarita Transit Accessibility Advisory Committee, he is always on the lookout for ways to improve transportation for senior citizens and the disabled in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"Seniors with transportation problems can approach any board member. The board poses the problem to the Santa Clarita transportation department," Curry said. And then, hopefully, the problem is taken care of.

But as a C-6 quadriplegic needing a wheelchair to get around, Curry also discovers transportation problems firsthand. For example, he became aware of a design flaw in local busses "by trial and error." You see, previously, folks in wheelchairs were placed over the rear axles of these vehicles, where vibrations from the road surface were felt very strongly.

"It can mess your spinal cord up, especially when you hit bumps," Curry said.

Curry posed the problem to Transit, suggesting that they get new busses, where the wheelchairs are placed behind the driver, where the vibrations are greatly reduced. His efforts were met with success. Fourteen new Dial-A-Ride vans with the new arrangement should be put into service in the SCV by Aug. 14.

But Curry is more than just an advocate for accessibility, he's a ray of sunshine at the Senior Center. While he is "doing secretarial work" in the office there, his helpful, upbeat nature and winning smile fit right in with the friendly atmosphere created by the other volunteers and staff members.

Robin Clough, director of recreation and volunteers at the Senior Center, said this about Curry: "First of all, he's just such a nice guy, always positive and optimistic. Keith is a problem solver, a critical thinker. These rare skills are put to good use in the front office and with the program for the visually impaired, but they are most apparent in his work with transportation. Keith has taken a proactive role in finding solutions for not only senior transportation needs but for those of all the disabled. His insight has been invaluable in bringing about improvements. Keith's wonderful personality and his concern for others really enhance our Senior Center."

Clough was the one who gave Curry an opportunity to volunteer at the Senior Center about eight months ago.

"I was always interested (in volunteering)," Curry said. "But when my mother turned 70, and became a member of the Senior Center, I figured it was time to give some of my time."

Curry and his mother live together in Canyon Country and travel together to the Senior Center, so the current arrangement is very convenient, but its evolution took many years.

Growing up in Pacoima, Curry joined the National Guard when he was 18. He served for three years "as a gunner on a howitzer." Later, he built motors at a company in North Hollywood.

In 1987 an injury to his neck paralyzed him below the mid-chest, and his life changed drastically. But he never let it stop him.

Curry began attending College of the Canyons in 1993 and graduated with his associate degree. He transferred to Cal State University Northridge and received his bachelor's degree in psychology in 2002.

During this time (1998) he joined the Accessibility Advisory Committee as a board member. "Jim Hogan was the chairperson then. We became real good friends," Curry said. "The AAC ... makes sure seniors have quality transportation and their needs are met by the vans and busses."

Curry noted that, through the efforts of the AAC, the federally-funded Access Services Incorporated has been brought to the SCV. This offers transportation to those whose disabilities prevent them from utilizing fixed-route transportation services.

"All we had was Dial-A-ride. Now we have Access Services," he said. "All of this is for the betterment of the community, for the seniors as well as those who are disabled, who don't have proper transportation. We want to make transportation better for the Santa Clarita Valley."

And the SCV Senior Center facilitates this process. "At the Senior Center, if any senior has any grievances as far as Dial-A-Ride, Access Services or the Santa Clarita bus system, they can come to me or John Taylor and we will present it (the grievance, to Transit)."

Curry serves the community in other ways as well. He previously volunteered at Camp Scott and Camp Scudder youth camps, serving as a youth minister. And though he has had to give up those duties, he still reaches out to others as a minister for the Spirit and Life Ministries in San Fernando.

But his calling seems to be in solving transportation problems, and though there is always room for improvement, he gives the SCV high marks for accessibility for seniors and the disabled. "The SCV does a great job. I really believe they take care of their seniors and the disabled well," he said.

He feels that one reason for this is that the AAC "polices" local transportation to make sure everybody is taken care of. "I consider the AAC is doing a good job when I hear positive things from riders," Curry said.

He is proud of the role he plays in this, and noted that he was honored at the Senior Center on Feb. 8 "for my volunteer community work with the AAC."

In regard to the future, Curry said, "I want to continue doing this because I really like it. I'd like to become more involved with the Santa Clarita transportation department."

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