Jud Knox, a 73-year-old New York native and former CEO of Maine’s York Hospital, spent decades in hospital administration before his retirement in 2020. His interest in the field began with a fascination with leadership and group behavior. Looking for the close-knit feel of a community like the one he grew up in, he found small hospitals to be a great venue to connect with people.
During the last several years of his tenure, he found an interest in geriatric medicine and rehabilitation. He noticed that, in many ways, medical services geared towards seniors could use some refining. By the time he stepped back, York was recognized as one of the most age-friendly hospitals in the southern part of the state.
So, in the midst of a global pandemic, Jud found himself without the daily responsibilities of work to keep him occupied and was, like millions of others, sitting around at home with his wife thinking of ways he could engage next. Jud’s wife, Laurie, is a retired physical therapist with a long history of working with older adults. They both have experienced caring for aging parents and were keenly aware of those who were struggling the most under the circumstances.
“I was sensitive to the fact that the impact of the pandemic on older adults is disproportionately negative,” Jud says.
Despite being a self-described nature-loving “car nut,” his true passion lies with helping others. Having always enjoyed the feeling of serving people at the hospital, even without the clinical knowledge of the people seeing patients, he knew he wanted to continue. The world was presenting him with a clear opportunity, and in January 2021, Jud and Laurie started Heart to Heart.
Heart to Heart began with the simple goal of helping older adults with whatever needs they stated. He put up a website and a phone number and waited for requests. If he and Laurie could help personally, they would. If they could refer them to other, more specialized organizations, they would do that, too.
As they started talking to people in the community, they quickly realized that transportation was the biggest unmet need and changed their focus. That’s when requests began pouring in. Some people needed to get to medical appointments, which made up about 80% of the rides. Others needed to go to the grocery store or a hair appointment. They don’t judge what is considered an important trip for someone and will drive people anywhere. What may start out as a drive home from a physical therapy appointment will often times turns into a “quick stop at the bank” or a grocery run “just to grab bread and milk.”
“I think in the first month, Heart to Heart had seven requests, and right now, we’re doing 30-40 rides a week,” Jud conveys with pride.
They started recruiting more volunteers and offering technology consultations, phone chats and general assistance to people. Jud likes taking the calls and enjoys building relationships with people in the community. He carries the company cell phone at all times, ready to be there when needed. Laurie is also on call. Judd jokingly calls her the “rescue driver” for those times when rides get scheduled too tightly.
“I often say to folks, this is not about transportation, it is about people. And it is about people sharing lives and sharing life experiences. And it’s about learning every day.”
Sometimes, it’s simply about listening. Jud recounts times when people have really opened up to him on their rides. The seniors he helps often comment about how much of a role his services and companionship play in their lives.
Sue Peterson, a retired teacher and volunteer driver, met the Knox’s through her husband who worked at the hospital with Jud. They’ve known each other for years and she was happy to join the cause as a board member as well.
“[Jud] has just a wonderful way of welcoming people when they call. I don’t think it’s always easy to make that call to say, ‘I need some help.’ And he makes it very accessible to people,” Sue says. “He’s very good at what he’s doing.”
What does the future of Heart to Heart look like? Jud would like to bring another 10-15 drivers onboard so he doesn’t have to turn anyone away due to a lack of resources. With the receipt of a recent grant, he plans to provide modest stipends for mileage in hopes of attracting more volunteers.
In the long term, Jud hopes to create infrastructure that will last well into the future. There will always be a need for the services Heart to Heart provides, and he hopes there will always be people to fill it.
“Volunteering, to me, is a form of love. When I think of providing transportation and listening to people, it’s understanding, and understanding is fundamental to love.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Jud Knox? Find local volunteer opportunities.