by Michele C. Louwerse

State Street, a leading servicer of global financial assets for institutional investors, recently an­nounced it would be supporting the YMCA Care Taxi Project with a grant of ¥3.5 million.

Founded in 1792 in Boston, Massachusetts, and to­day conducting business in 85 countries—including Japan since 1989—State Street established a Philanthropy Program more than 25 years ago with the pri­mary aim of helping the urban poor and the otherwise disadvantaged build better lives. In Japan, State Street supports this mission while addressing the particular needs of the local community.

“In today’s aging society, as more Japanese seniors find themselves living alone, it becomes increasingly difficult for those who are bedridden, in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled to get from their homes to the hospital, or even the neighborhood grocery store,” said William Hunt, President and Chief Executive Of­ficer of State Street Companies, Japan.

“We chose to support the YMCA’s Care Taxi Project,” explained Hunt, “because it provides steps toward a long-term solution to a community need while raising awareness of the challenges faced by a growing part of our community.”

Drivers at the Care Taxi course

The Care Taxi Project, which provides training and certification to taxi drivers in assisting and moving disabled seniors, was first conceived by Emi Kuroki, an instructor at the Fukuoka YMCA College of Social Welfare, because she was having difficulty getting her clients to the hospital or clinic.

“We’ve considered building a transportation unit into the curriculum,” said Kuroki, “but that still leaves a central problem: there simply aren’t enough social welfare workers to assist our clients every time they need to get somewhere.”

The solution: taxis. “Taxis are ideal,” explained Kuroki enthusiastically. “Unlike care takers, who are available only from 9 to 5 in limited numbers, hundreds of taxis are available 24 hours a day, and don’t mind being called at mealtimes or in the middle of the night.”

Drivers are first required to get a “level-two” certi­fication in home-helper skills, which is regulated by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and offered by the YMCA as well as other organizations.

Certified drivers then take the Care Taxi course, de­signed by and administered by the Fukuoka YMCA. The course lasts 28 hours over four days and includes units such as training in helping clients in and out of the taxi, carrying, maneuvering wheelchairs, and manners.

“This includes driving,” she added. “If passengers are frail and unable to brace themselves, drivers shouldn’t speed around comers or make sudden stops.”

Home-helper certification also enables drivers to assist in basic tasks such as feeding and personal hy­giene. Drivers can even be hired to do the shopping.

“Because of the change in the insurance system, fewer seniors qualify for social welfare services,” commented Kouei Miyata, Fukuoka YMCA staff director of the Care Taxi Project. “Care Taxis help fill the gap in services.”

With the strong support of the Fukuoka and North Kyushu Taxi Associations, the Fukuoka YMCA Care Taxi Project has certified 130 drivers from 40 taxi com­panies since its beginning in 1998, with some compa­nies receiving as many as 150 requests per month for the service, most of whom are repeat users.

The success of the project has led to its expansion to YMCAs in other cities, and the YMCAs of Kobe, Yokohama and Kumamoto are currently preparing to offer their own training courses.

Fukuoka YMCA is also continuing to expand, al­though not solely in numbers. “Our goal is to make the service available also on public transportation— buses, subways and trains,” said Miyata. “Then we would be helping make our society barrier-free not just for seniors, but for challenged people of all ages.”Then we would be helping make our society barrier-free not just for seniors, but for challenged people of all ages.