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"Rise up and build': Major Lexington faith coalition pushes for eldercare, transportation reforms

Josh James

More than 1,500 members of a 26-congregation group called BUILD gathered Tuesday night with the goal of securing commitments from the city on its current priorities.

Think of the BUILD Nehemiah Action meeting as unique blend of church service, community gathering, and rally in support of direct grassroots action.

The coalition of congregations chooses specific stubborn community issues, puts a laser focus on them, and pushes city leaders to commit — in person, onstage if possible — to fund programs they believe will help solve those issues.

Right now, all eyes are on improving eldercare and transportation. While the group has yet to secure commitments on its preferred “Village to Village” program for seniors, it did win firm “yeses” from seven councilmembers when it comes to funding a Lextran feasibility study on microtransit.

Councilman Chuck Ellinger, a leading proponent of the service, described microtransit as "on-demand, similar to an Uber or Lyft."

While implementation of such a system would still be a ways off, Vladimir Stafford, who uses a wheelchair, says it would be a game-changer for him.

"It would be life-changing," he says. "I would have a second way to get around, not just with Lextran but with microtransit. I would would feel at ease knowing that I have a backup."

Stafford says WHEELS service hasn’t been reliable, leading to scheduling issues, late arrival to doctors appointments, and other delays and frustrations. He also had to give up on a job prospect due to lack of transportation.

Just seeing a room full of people who care, he said, is encouraging.

"Me knowing, and everybody knowing who's having issues with transportation, have the force and backing and support of those 1,500 people and more to say hey, we need to fix this... because of that I'm very hopeful," he told WUKY.

But make no mistake. BUILD action meetings are high pressure affairs and often officials hold off on attending if they’re not entirely on board with the proposals and don't feel comfortable committing to the group's proposed solutions.

This year, Mayor Linda Gorton and the city’s social services commissioner were invited but did not attend.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.