“You gave me back my life.” That note from a rider using Wickenburg’s Freedom Express, which relies on volunteer drivers, is testament to the impact transportation can have in the lives of seniors. But finding safe, reliable, and affordable transportation can be challenging, especially in rural areas. Now, an innovative model is providing funding to local governments, nonprofits and other service agencies to improve rural transportation options. Age Friendly Arizona , an initiative coordinated by the Maricopa Association of Governments, recently expanded the number of projects accepted to participate in the “Rural Transportation Incubator.” The incubator helps fund or support programs designed to connect older adults in rural areas with transportation services. The incubator is supported by a two-year grant from The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation , as well as the Federal Highway Administration and support from diverse partners nationwide. One in five older Americans live in rural areas. Studies have found that adequate transportation options are critical to successful aging. Without the ability to go places, older adults often become socially isolated and their health is affected. “It’s actually the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day to be isolated socially,” says John Feather, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging , a national partner on the project. “People may have lost a spouse, don’t know their neighbors, may not get out of their house much. And that really does have a tremendous impact on physical and mental health.” Grantmakers in Aging worked with Age Friendly Arizona to develop a toolkit, Blind Spot , to encourage philanthropy to support transportation services. FHWA funded the development of the toolkit, which includes tips, tools and case studies to be shared with communities nationwide. The toolkit includes interviews with national leaders in transportation for older adults, such as Carol Wright Kenderdine, director of Easterseals Transportation Group and co-director of the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center. “You’re not funding ‘transportation,’ you’re supporting people’s ability to stay connected to their lives,” says Kenderdine. Initially, six agencies participated in the incubator, providing a range of services from first-mile/last-mile service to purchasing vans to providing volunteer drivers. Those agencies included the City of Winslow, the Payson Senior Center, the Volunteer Interfaith Caregivers Program, the Easterseals Blake Foundation, the New Horizons Disability Empowerment Center, and the City of Benson. The MAG Regional Council has voted to allocate funding for nine more projects. They include Assist To Independence ; TAP AZ Coalition for Military Families ; Foundation for Senior Living ; Changepoint Integrated Health ; Interfaith Community Services ; New Horizons Disability Empowerment Center ; People Who Care ; and additional funding for ViCAP (Volunteer Interfaith Caregivers Program) and the City of Winslow . The funding for the agencies will be used to support transportation services and technology solutions.