When Neil Urbanski was an intern at the International Institute of Minnesota, he noticed the difficulty clients have getting around the cities and the strain it can put on their lives. In late summer 2013, Urbanski planned and taught a two-day public transport workshop. The workshop included a day of classroom activities and a day of practicing skills on a bus brought to the Institute by Metro Transit.
Now an Employment Navigator with the Institute, Urbanski sees a continued need for this type of training. Many New Americans have a fear of public transit because of safety concerns and the added challenge of a language barrier. The new Bus Buddies program hopes to change this and alleviate the isolation felt by a lack of transportation. The program matches up an intern from the Institute with a client requesting help navigating the bus system. Clients sign up for the program through their case manager, identifying a location they would like to go to from their house. This can be to the Institute, the grocery store or even a friend’s house. A visual instruction manual is made specifically for the client, utilizing screen shots of maps navigating each part of the journey. An intern then goes out to the client’s home and provides one-on-one training for navigating the trip, with skills including reading bus maps, signaling for a stop, making transfers and paying fares. The intern rides along with the client on their trip to provide help as needed.
Though the program is in its first few weeks of implementation, it is already popular among newly arrived refugees. Interns’ schedules are booked a couple of weeks out. Case managers and clients are excited about the program and the increased ability for New Americans to travel throughout the Twin Cities. Clients are more confident traveling by bus after they have had the training. They are able to sign up for another session if they would like. The program will be offered throughout the year, made sustainable through the collaboration of interns, case managers and Urbanski, who acts as the program coordinator. Clients interested in signing up can do so through their case managers.