Photo by Jamie Alexander
Reliable transportation is a luxury many people take for granted. Although Transportation Director Dan Lanham had no previous experience in the field before coming to Audubon Area Community Services, he has dedicated the majority of his life to helping those in need. That is why it came as no surprise (except to Lanham) that he was inducted into the Kentucky Public Transit Association (KPTA) Hall of Fame at the association’s bi-annual conference in November.
“It really was a tremendous honor, and is something I’m incredibly proud of,” Lanham said. “To be recognized by the people you work with and work for is pretty cool.”
Lanham has been with GRITS (The Green River Intra-county Transit System) for over 16 years, and hopes to stay for at least 20. After spending 30 years involved with his family’s construction business, Lanham Brothers Construction, Lanham said he began searching for a position where he could make a living helping others.
“I’ve been involved in lots of organizations over the years where that was their mission—helping others,” Lanham said, adding that he has served on the WKU-O advisory council for the past 39 years, in addition to volunteering with many local nonprofits and coaching multiple sports.
While these experiences have helped Lanham to have a better perspective of the ways in which the Owensboro community assists others, he admits that he underestimated the simplicity of the transition to working full-time for a nonprofit.
“When I got here, I think my expectation was that it was much simpler than it turned out to be,” Lanham said. “The nonprofit world is very different—it’s much more complex. There are lots of moving parts, many of which you have no control over…(there have been) a lot of good people here and a lot of good people across the state to help me…it’s been very rewarding.”
Some of those rewards have included patients making it safely to dialysis appointments during the pandemic, wheelchair-bound patrons visiting family in nursing homes, and Afghan refugee families being afforded the opportunity to have a meal, attend prayer, and view a performance at the RiverPark Center.
Despite the many opportunities that GRITS offers, Lanham said he is still asked on a consistent basis, who is eligible to ride on GRITS. He said the answer is simple—anybody, anytime.
Yet, the reality is that, across the 22 counties GRITS serves, the majority of people transported are physically or economically disadvantaged, on Medicaid, and may not have a vehicle available in their household.
“What this service does is allow those people to get the treatment that they need and allows their families to lead a life that is productive and helpful to the community,” Lanham said.
In addition to these life-changing services, GRITS also offers paid fares, assists the Kentucky Department of Corrections, and provides paratransit services for the Owensboro Transit System. In past years, prior to the pandemic, GRITS has been responsible for 2,500 trips a day.
“That’s a lot of people going to a lot of places,” Lanham said, adding that they are currently transporting over 1,600, with the numbers climbing each day.
When it comes to changes or concerns, Lanham said finances are much better than they have been, but there is still a dire need for drivers.
“If anything, I wish more people would get involved; we need drivers,” Lanham said. “It’s one of those industries that doesn’t seem glamorous, and it’s not. But if you like helping people, this is where you need to be—that’s all we do all day every day. It does come with its challenges, but it’s a rewarding place to work.”