Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
                                WI DRIVE Founder Heather Mayhugh loads a walker into her van for a client.

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group WI DRIVE Founder Heather Mayhugh loads a walker into her van for a client.

Going the extra mile

What began as a part-time hobby to help people has turned into a nearly full-time occupation.

While recovering from donating a kidney to a friend, Heather Mayhugh was searching for something to do that wasn’t as strenuous as her former construction job. She had her own challenges with limited mobility before and knew firsthand the effect it could have on a person’s life.

This past year, she came up with the idea for WI DRIVE, or Whidbey Island Drive, a door-to-door assisted transport service for people with disabilities or special needs. She currently accepts donations for rides.

Realizing there was a gap between what bus services and taxis could do for people needing extra assistance, the Langley resident set out to remedy that with her background knowledge as a former EMT and driver for a nonprofit transportation organization in Oregon.

“Starting WI DRIVE was something I had been thinking about,” Mayhugh said, “and something I had been taking tiny steps towards, because I knew the island needed it.”

She added with a laugh, “I sold my beloved 4Runner and now I’m driving a soccer mom van.”

Mayhugh asked the community for help in matching her funds going towards purchasing her own van for WI DRIVE. Named Clarence after the guardian angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the van is only used for good and has so far given over 150 rides, she explained.

During the past few months, she has provided rides to stores, WICA performances and doctors’ appointments, including ones off the island. She has also transported a client to Shoreline to visit his wife.

“It helps peoples’ quality of life if they have a little bit of freedom, even if it’s just me driving them to the grocery store,” Mayhugh said.

Recently she started partnering with assisted living facilities on the South End. Maple Ridge in Freeland has a handful of residents who regularly rely on Mayhugh’s services, especially in visiting specialists on the mainland.

“She just has that caring spirit, that caring heart that people need,” Executive Director Wendy Martin said.

Martin appreciates her empathy and willingness to “go the extra mile” for the residents.

“I can always count on her when I need her, and she always answers immediately,” Martin said.

A former client and now friend of Mayhugh’s, Sabra Learned agreed that WI DRIVE provides a much-needed service for folks trying to get to medical appointments.

“She’s very safe, she makes you feel comfortable in the car,” Learned said.

She added, “I hope she grows her business, because the need is certainly great.”

Mayhugh is working towards receiving nonprofit certification for her business. Until that happens and she is able to determine a fixed rate — which would be somewhere around $5 per ride — she asks for donations and for people to pay the ferry fare, which supports maintenance and gas for the vehicle.

Although she is able to fold wheelchairs and walkers up to store in the van, it is not equipped with a ramp. Mayhugh’s next goal is to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle. She is hosting a benefit to raise $20,000 for this objective, tentatively set for Saturday, April 18.

The all-ages benefit for WI DRIVE will have a silent auction, food, a hosted bar, live entertainment and a superhero costume contest, a nod to Comic Con.

An auction, or possibly a raffle, is slated to have artwork, gift certificates for Whidbey businesses, a glass piece from Callahan’s Firehouse, handmade T-shirts and signed books from “local celebrities.”

A suggested donation of $20 at the door is the entry fee.

Currently WI DRIVE runs 9-5, Monday through Friday, and operates on a first-come, first-call basis. Appointments can be scheduled via the WI DRIVE Facebook page, or by calling 360-320-3075. Mayhugh is hoping to eventually have another driver, to help with taking people to church services on Sundays.

She said Island Transit and various taxi services on the island, whom she has coordinated with, are looking to also purchase wheelchair vans.

“I’ve kind of started a movement, and I’m proud of that,” Mayhugh said.

And for those concerned about catching the coronavirus, rest assured that both Mayhugh and Clarence are equipped to deal with the situation. She wipes down the car after every passenger and has been taking precautions by transporting individuals one at a time, when previously she drove them together.

As of this past week, Mayhugh has been helping to deliver vital supplies, such as toilet paper and paper towels, to residents in need.

An earlier version of this story said the Extrava”van”za was scheduled for March 14. It was updated with the correct information at 1:37 p.m. on March 11.

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