- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

Eighty-four-year-old Herb Nachman had just about given up on finding transportation to get around in his rural community near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“I either have to get a ride, or I don’t go,” said the Townsend resident, who has impaired vision.

But a Blount County program is making sure that Nachman and other seniors aren’t stuck at home by providing volunteers who drive them to places like a doctor’s office or the grocery store.

“They pick me up and they take me wherever I want to go,” Nachman said. “Doctors, the gym, whatever. It’s a great program.”

Joani Shaver directs the Blount County Office on Aging. She helped start the program, which charges seniors $49 - $25 for an annual membership and $24 for their first four rides, which cost $6 for each round trip.

“My focus was on those 60 and older, and that’s what we developed, a program designed for them,” said Shaver. “It’s affordable, it’s accessible, and it’s really working well.” She added that she’s working with some surrounding rural counties to try to start similar programs.

The program is in line with recent recommendations of a task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to find ways the state can serve its seniors more efficiently and effectively.

The panel focused on promoting healthy aging, creating livable communities, and supporting family caregivers. The Blount County program falls under livable communities.

“We know that while more than 14 percent of Tennesseans are over the age of 65 today, that number is expected to be more than 22 percent by 2020, and we need to be prepared for that as a state,” Haslam said.

AARP spokeswoman Tara Shaver said the Blount County program is particularly helpful to seniors living in rural areas.

“In outlying areas … sometimes they can miss their appointment for having to spend all day just to get to one appointment,” Shaver said. “And so this is a creative solution to a problem that we have heard from people all across the state.”

The program serves nearly 120 seniors, and Joani Shaver said about 38 percent of them need rides for doctors’ appointments, particularly those in very rural areas. She said some seniors have access to other transportation, but don’t want to “bug their kids, or next door neighbor, or some other relative.”

“This has given them a great amount of independence,” she said.

Judy Campbell of Maryville appreciates that independence. The 72-year-old has been using the program for about a year and makes at least five trips a month.

“I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found out about this program,” she said.

Pat Goan is one of the program’s 54 volunteer drivers. The volunteers must complete a four-hour training course, mainly on helping seniors with special needs.

Goan, who’s retired, says what she likes most about the program is “giving seniors the freedom to plan and do their life the way they used to.”

“It’s a sense of being able to give back to a population that has given to us,” she said.

___

Online:

Blount County Office on Aging: https://www.blountcaa.org/programs/office-on-aging/


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