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Connecting Laramie: Non-profit aims to ‘fill the gap’ with rides, meals

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One day last week, Tim Snowbarger started the morning by driving a woman to work. Soon after, he picked up a man who needed a ride home after a medical procedure at Premier Bone and Joint Center.

The morning continued with a trip to Walmart with two women who didn’t have a way to get to the store. Then he took a new-to-Laramie man and his son to the doctor for an appointment for a broken hand. His afternoon finished by taking a woman home from work.

He planned to be up early the next morning to take someone to a morning medical appointment in Fort Collins, Colorado. During his free moments, Snowbarger expected to get more calls asking for rides.

Laramie may be a small town, but even in a small town it’s hard to get around without a car. Residents rely on friends and family members for rides, take taxis every once in a while, or catch a ride on transportation offered by the University of Wyoming and Eppson Center for Seniors.

As the founder of Laramie Connections Center, Snowbarger and a handful of volunteers have been providing rides around town since early January, using a donated 12-passenger van. Since then, they’ve provided more than 200 rides, including several dozen rides to nearby cities for medical appointments.

“A lot of people wouldn’t think that transportation is a big deal, he said. “But there’s a gap, and we come alongside to help fill that gap.”

Snowbarger has been working in Laramie’s non-profit realm for more than two years. He moved here from Denver intending to start a church affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene denomination, and in the meantime has been working to complement the non-profit work already happening here.

He started by organizing LASSO Events, which connects volunteers with organizations that need help. During that course of that work, he said, he noticed more ways he could support existing efforts while not duplicating work already taking place.

“Helping facilitate volunteerism has put us in front of a lot of needs,” he said.

For example, the Laramie Soup Kitchen doesn’t serve meals on weekends. Eppson Center patrons can receive weekend meals only if they’re older than 60. Through Laramie Connections Center, which includes LASSO Events among its projects, he started serving a free, hot community meal on Sunday evenings.

“There’s a huge gap for people 59 and younger that have that need,” he said.

Meals take place from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sundays at First Baptist Church, 1517 Canby St.

In talking with a nurse at the Downtown Clinic, he learned that many patients cancel appointments at the last minute because their transportation plans have fallen through, or never materialized.

He hadn’t envisioned offering rides, but after thinking about it for a few weeks, he got the program underway.

“It’s been really organic and really relational,” he said.

Now Laramie Connections Center offers rides by referral for any kind of need. They deliver meals for the soup kitchen, they move families working with Laramie SAFE Project and they transport Interfaith-Good Samaritan clients to hotels or the bus station.

The service has only gotten more popular since it started in January.

“Into (the COVID-19 pandemic), it didn’t let up,” he said. “People still need to get where they need to get.”

Tessa Matzen, a case manager and therapist at LIV Health, works with elderly and disabled residents who don’t have transportation, and who have relied on Laramie Connections Center for appointments.

“A lot them would not be able to see doctors or get tests done if they did not have transportation,” she said. “It’s important for their physical and mental health.”

She recalled a man who was able to move into Laramie Senior Housing because he had help from Snowbarger.

“That gave him an opportunity to be in stable housing, clean housing, rent adjusted housing,” she said. “That’s changed his entire life and what he experiences.”

Mari Martinez, a volunteer driver for Laramie Connections Center, said she’s happy to be filling a real community need.

“There are people that really do need the service, and they need to know it’s there,” she said.

Martinez and Snowbarger have noticed that reliable transportation is often taken for granted.

“If you don’t have a car, you can’t go places. If you can’t go places, you can’t be with people, can’t socialize,” he said. “There’s an epidemic of loneliness that’s out there. Transportation is huge when it comes to something like that.”

Snowbarger said he often has to turn down ride requests because the 12-passenger van isn’t wheelchair-accessible. The next step is to purchase another vehicle, this one ADA-compliant.

Proceeds from Saturday’s Taste of Laramie, a fundraiser organized by Laramie Sunrise Rotary, should jumpstart that process.

He also hopes to continue doing meal deliveries and increasing the moving services. A physical location might be a possible future goal.

Throughout the process, Snowbarger has observed collaborations between nonprofits, businesses and individuals, and he wants to see those connections grow.

“I see us playing a role helping navigate between services and helping be a spark,” he said.