RIDER PROFILE: Sondra is a 50-year old single military mom whose son is a Marine recruiter and Iraqi veteran. A new grandma-to-be, she is eagerly looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild in April. She volunteers as a ticket usher at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Victoria Gardens. She is also a volunteer at the Abundant Living Family Church in Rancho Cucamonga, where she is involved in a ministry group focused on gang prevention. It is a cause she feels passionate about. “We try to get these kids to open their hearts, stop killing people and doing drugs. We help find them jobs and resources.”
Sondra used to be a preschool teacher before her disabilities brought her career to an end. She suffers from vertigo and dementia, has arthritis throughout her body and nerve damage in one leg.
“I have good days and bad days,” laughs Sondra. “Every once in a while I walk like the Bride of Frankenstein, but most of the time people wouldn’t know there was anything wrong with me. There are a lot of people like me who have hidden disabilities and are embarrassed by them. It can be very humiliating. Sometimes you need special accommodations or extra help with something and people don’t understand why because your disability isn’t obvious.”
Sondra has been riding the bus since 1978. At first it was just occasionally, when her car would break down. Now she rides because she enjoys it. She takes about 5 different buses a day and jokingly refers to Omnitrans as her “limousine.”
“Every morning I wonder who I’m going to meet that day,” she says. “I have this mom energy that makes people want to talk to me, so I get to meet a lot of different people on the bus. Sometimes it’s a homeless girl. Sometimes it’s a family or someone on their way to work. I try to have a smile and a kind word for everyone. Little things like that can mean the world to a person.”
Sondra knows this firsthand. Her favorite drivers, Doris and Albert always give her a smile and wave whenever they drive by her on the street. “They really make you feel special. They have compassion for people, love their jobs and always have a smile for you. When your driver waves at you and you’re not even getting on the bus, it means so much. You will always go back to Omni because of that. You can always find other rides, but those drivers are the ones that keep bringing you back.”
When asked what her life would be like without public transit, Sondra is emotional. “I worry about that sometimes. If Omni wasn’t around, I’d miss it like crazy. I would feel like I lost a best friend. The good drivers make me feel loved and give me the strength to go on when I’m having a bad day. They are like family to me.”
–Juno Kughler Carlson
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