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Solutions, not punishment

Modus gives teens rides to medical and social services

Cledella Evans was the first black female firefighter in Tulsa. Now retired, she volunteers with Modus. At right is Leslie Neal, Modus coordinator.

Greg Bollinger

A student walked through my office door and slumped on my couch. She leaned her head back and focused her eyes on the ceiling tiles. She said because she hadn’t had a ride to her last three counseling appointments, her therapist removed her from her caseload and continued down the waiting list of uninsured clients.

“Maybe we can try again next year, Ms. Mary,” she said as she walked out of my office, deflated.

As a social worker at a low-income high school, this is a scenario I’ve seen too many times. Many of my students make a concerted effort to do what they need to flourish, but are met with barriers outside of their control. I provide extensive lists of resources to students, but that is fruitless if they can’t get there.

That’s where Modus, a non-profit providing free transportation to teenagers ages 13–19, comes in. Modus transports teens in need to medical and social services appointments through the help of volunteers and part-time drivers.

“If teens are taking these steps to improve themselves, transportation shouldn’t be the thing holding them up,” Modus Program Coordinator Leslie Neal said. “We punish teens for not showing up for things but don’t think of a solution to get them there. This is a very solution-based idea.”

Modus began in 2016 at The Mine, an organization that serves as an incubator for non-profit startups, and is partially funded by a 2017 social innovation grant from Tulsa Area United Way to assist with startup costs. For now, Modus operates out of Youth Services of Tulsa (YST) and only serves YST clientele, but they aim to have an independent location by April 2018 and serve clients from other agencies such as Family and Children’s Services. Modus’s mission also includes decreasing transportation costs for non-profit agencies around Tulsa.

“So far we have given teens rides to YST services such as counseling, the first offender program, and substance abuse groups,” Neal said.

“On average, agencies are spending $100,000 [per year] on client transportation. We are trying to reduce client transportation spending by 50 percent. The Mine did a study showing that if the staff at YST stayed in their offices rather than driving around to see clients they could each see 40 more clients a year.”

Starting with this fall semester, Modus will partner with Tulsa Transit and Tulsa Public Schools (TPS). Last year, Tulsa Transit gave over 69,000 rides to TPS students.

“The other portion of Modus is called Modus Ed., where we will be going into all Tulsa Public High Schools and educating every ninth-grade student on how to effectively use Tulsa Transit through a 20-minute transit training program,” Neal said.

Free rides on any Tulsa Transit bus for TPS students now extend through the weekend (during the school year) and a link at tulsaschools.org/tpsrides shows routes to schools, making navigating the city by bus much easier and making Modus more of a last-resort option.

Still, Modus needs volunteers for the rides public transportation won’t cover. Elizabeth Hughes, who works full-time as a counselor at TRAICE Academy High School and also at a psychiatric hospital, sees what happens to adults who don’t get the resources they need in their youth. Hughes drives for Modus because she believes it’s the best way to volunteer what little time she has to offer.

“If we could just set [teens] on a different track, they don’t have to end up being brought to a psychiatric hospital in handcuffs. That doesn’t have to happen in their life—it can be different. As a single mom with two jobs, I don’t have a whole lot of time so I wanted to give what I could and this felt like a very productive way to do something and contribute,” Hughes said.

Cledella Evans, another Modus volunteer, is a retired firefighter working on her master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. She used her experience as a firefighter to connect with her first client and put him at ease.

“One young man was worried about me [being] in his neighborhood and I said to him, ‘Oh, I’ve been over here on the fire truck.’ … I was able to tell him I was a firefighter and we talked about that.”

“I’m excited,” Evans said. “The people that I have brought here [to YST] were the nicest, sweetest young people. And I know it’s not going to always be like that, but they were just so excited to have a ride, to get where they needed to go.”

With enthusiasm from volunteers like Hughes and Evans, coupled with the increased interest and buy-in from agencies around Tulsa, Neal looks forward to helping more teens in Tulsa through Modus.

If you are interested in volunteering with Modus, visit modustulsa.org.

For more from Mary, read her profile of local rap artist Dialtone.

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