ICATS employees celebrate a milestone Wednesday at Statesville Dialysis as driver Tonnette Kadima (center) was honored for transporting her 20,000th wheelchair passenger.

BY KARISSA MILLER

Iredell County Area Transit System driver Tonnette Kadima was honored Wednesday afternoon for transporting safely transporting 20,000 wheelchair passengers.

Kadima — a top driver for ICATS Transit has been with ICATS Transit since 2003 — was
unaware that a special ceremony had been planned by her co-workers.

ICATS Director Bradley Johnson arranged for her parents, Katha and Audrey Stewart, and other family members and friends to show up to Statesville Dialysis to surprise her.

During a special ceremony, Kadima was presented with a plaque and it was revealed that she had safely and securely transported 20,000 wheelchair patients.

A surprised Kadima addressed the crowd after she accepted the plaque that was dedicated to her.

“My job brings me a lot of joy. My passengers and I connect. I try and bring laughter and joy — I think that’s one of my gifts,” she said.

“The wheelchairs sometimes wear on the body, but I enjoy the passengers — most of them,” she added, which elicited laughter.

Mollie Davenport, ICATS office manager, has been driving for 20 years. She said that wheelchairs can be hard on a person’s body, but it also wears on a person’s heart and mind.

Davenport described Kadima a leader who never complains about the aches she’s endured on the job.

Operations Manager Jeff Crouchley had high praise for the driver, saying she provides exemplary service.

“Tonnette is definitely something special. She has a great personality and is a heck of a driver, and you couldn’t ask for more,” Crouchley said.

ICATS offers both fixed routes and wheelchair-accessible buses. Kadima runs a paratransit route, picking up dialysis patients who visit Statesville Dialysis two to three times a week.

Dialysis is never pleasant, Crouchley explained, and patients are often worn out by the procedure.

“She does her best to make sure the ride is as peaceful and comfortable as possible. That’s why she’s one of our best drivers and top employees at ICATS,” Crouchley said.

Ann Mason, a new transit rider, said the services that ICATS provides are vital.

“If you don’t have this (service), someone has to get off of work to take you (to an appointment). Kadima always has a smile on her face and goes by the rules,” Mason said.

Johnson said Kadima’s dedication to ICATS is unbelievable and she goes the extra mile — literally.

A few years ago, when Kadima did not make the county’s “roadeo” competition team, she woke up early and drove down to Wilmington to cheer on her co-workers.

“That’s the kind of person she is — she goes above and beyond,” he added.

In 2019 Kadima was a member of the county’s first-place roadeo state championship team. ICATS has won first place the last two years.

Iredell County Board of Commissioners Chairman James Mallory and Deputy County Manager Susan Robertson both expressed appreciation for the service she provides citizens.

Mallory said he’s thankful for Kadima’s service to the county and for providing great customer service with a smile, in particular, to people who may be struggling.

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