It’s not easy raising children, especially in today’s hectic, high-speed world. Mike Etzell raised four, including twins. He says a lifetime of riding public transit gave his children confidence and the mobility needed for their independence.
“My kids shifted from the school bus to Island Transit over time,” says Etzell, adding that all four graduated from Coupeville High School. “All they’ve known is walking to the bus and taking the bus. It was part of their normal.”
The Etzell children are all out of the home now. Lucas, 23 years old and one of the twins, moved into his own apartment in Coupeville last summer and holds a job at Pickles Deli in Clinton where he works washing dishes and helping where needed. Lucas was born with an extra 21st chromosome, so he experiences Down Syndrome. He is a regular Island Transit rider.
“He could have taken the special bus the school offers, but we insisted he first take the regular school bus to get to know his classmates. Little by little, he experienced the fun of Island Transit and the larger community,” explains Etzell. “He takes pride in knowing the system. If he sees something isn’t working, he always says, ‘we’ve got to fix that’ and he uses the RouteShout app so he can see how close the bus is, what stop it’s at, and if the bus is running late.”
Lucas was one of the first riders Todd Morrow met when he started his job as Executive Director of Island Transit in 2018. “He made me feel so welcome and special, like I was the President of the United States,” says Morrow.
Etzell chuckles, thinking about his son’s enthusiasm. He says Lucas is a border-line bus expert. “He will tell you everything there is to know about Island Transit routes and where they go and when to get off at your stop.”
Island Transit is more than just a ride to Lucas and his siblings. Learning to ride the bus developed skills that will take them through life, claims Etzell, who has ridden with Island Transit for over 20 years. “I know where ever they live they can get where they need to be because they know how to use public transit.”
As the Developmental Disabilities Coordinator for Island County Human Services, Etzell teaches other high school students and adults living with a disability to ride the bus. “If you’re mobile, you can get to your job, your housing, shopping and recreation, says Etzell. “Riding the bus removes barriers and opens up possibilities. It gives you the independence you need to live on your own and be part of the community.”
Etzell adds, “If you invest the time, then good things happen.”
Read more stories from people who ride the bus and why at www.islandtransit.org/whyIride.