CLINE: Helping on the road to recovery

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

To those who know her best, Linda Halbman is a lot of things. Wallflower is not one of them.

The Buford resident is very much the extrovert, and the enthusiasm she brings serves her well in her volunteer role with the American Cancer Society. Halbman is the Gwinnett coordinator for the county’s Road to Recovery Program, which provides volunteers to drive local cancer patients who are devoid of transportation to their treatments.

Halbman, entering her 10th year with the program, oversees a group of 50 drivers who provide rides — to and from treatments — for about seven Gwinnett patients. It is one of the largest Road to Recovery programs the American Cancer Society has, with some of those folks requiring daily trips and relying on Halbman’s team to get them home and back safely.

“This is a true lifeline. They couldn’t make it without us,” Halbman said.

Halbman was named Volunteer of the Year for the American Cancer Society’s Southeast division for her role in Road to Recovery. But she’s quick to point out it is a group effort, from scheduler Jim Jones to the many drivers who donate their time.

“I was honored (in getting the award) because our program got mentioned,” Halbman said. “A lot of our drivers are survivors. Cancer has touched them closely.”

Halbman was a full-time driver herself a decade ago when she started the program with just five volunteers. Over the years she has seen the initiative grow while keeping the hands-on approach that has made it a success. Halbman not only interviews drivers, she also meets with patients and helps them coordinate their treatments.

She credits her husband Jim for his support, allowing her to be on call at all hours, making scheduling changes before she goes to bed or calls while on vacation. Halbman, who lost her mother Ann Kluner to pancreatic cancer, calls Road to Recovery a “passion.”

The benefactors of that passion and the largess shown by the volunteer drivers are cancer patients like Barbara Lewis, a Snellville resident with stage 3 lung cancer. Lewis requires daily chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments, and the 78-year-old has no transportation of her own. She totals seven round trips per week, relying on volunteers for every ride.

“It means a lot to me,” Lewis said. “Like many of the elderly people, I don’t have the means of transportation to get to appointments. We’re lucky to have (the volunteers) to serve us.

“It really does (mean a lot). They don’t have to do it.”

Shirley Behnke has been driving for Road to Recovery for three years. Behnke, 66, is retired and was looking for volunteer work when she read a story about the program in the newspaper.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to be with the people and see how they don’t let having cancer get them down,” the Lawrenceville resident said.

Halbman said there is no stereotype for drivers.The median age, she said, is about 45. Some are retired, some are widows or widowers and many if not all have been touched by cancer in their lives. Most of the drivers have full-time jobs, helping Road to Recovery on their days off.

They all make a difference. But as with anything, more help is always needed.

“Right now we don’t have enough drivers in the Snellville area,” Halbman said. “If we had 80 or 90 drivers we could (help) eight or nine patients.”

It’s a rewarding experience, one you can learn more about by calling Halbman at 770-831-9444 or 770-912-0925.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.