A new program is being implemented in Claiborne County that will help senior citizens with transportation.
SMiles (Senior Smiles) of Claiborne County is a program designed to provide residents 60 years of age and older with much-needed transportation. Rides to doctor appointments, shopping or social events can help seniors maintain their independence, enabling them to lead a healthier, more productive life and therefore a happier one.
Volunteers are needed for the program. The program is for any resident of Claiborne County, and they can be driven to close areas such as Lafollette, Middlesboro and Jellico.
“The volunteers dedicating their time and talents to the SMiles program are the heart of SMiles,” said Denise West, director of the Claiborne County Office on Aging. “Whether they are drivers or staff, we could not provide this much needed assistance without them.”
The program is currently in the pilot stage, with the official kick-off coming at a later date, West added.
An informational meeting for prospective drivers will be held July 27 at 1:30 p.m. at the Tazewell Senior Citizens Center.
SMiles is designed to help the elderly regain their independence. It is a volunteer-based service that utilizes advanced Internet software to schedule, track, maintain and manage common destinations and repeat riders. Volunteers are provided Internet access to all scheduled riders and the ability to choose a time that is convenient for them. Volunteer drivers can even schedule to have a senior’s ride coincide with one they were already planning for themselves.
“The ease and flexibility of the program make it a great fit for both senior citizen riders and volunteers alike,” West said.
Riders will be charged a nominal mileage-based fee for each ride.
“This small amount will help them feel as if they are not a burden and help to offset some of the program’s costs,” she said.
Volunteers will be covered by liability insurance through the program, and it is illegal to sue a volunteer in the state of Tennessee, West said.
Background checks will be done on people who want to volunteer, which will be paid for through the program. Applications will go through an approval process, West added. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and the rider can have only one escort who must be at least 18 years old.
“We know that there are so many people out there wanting to help others, and this is a great way to help people volunteer,” she said. “If you’re going to Walmart or the grocery store, why not give a neighbor a ride?”
The program is being modeled after one in Blount County, which has been in place for three years. It has provided over 12,000 rides for seniors.
“This is a really exciting program for us,” West said. “Many seniors don’t ask for help because they don’t want to feel like a burden.”
West added that SMiles is an alternative to the well-known ETHRA transportation program.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of people who cannot or choose not to use ETHRA,” she said.
The initial volunteer meeting was held July 19, but it isn’t too late to volunteer — more are needed.
“With everyone’s help, we can provide an extremely valuable and much-needed service to our revered elderly population,” West said.
The program is a part of the Claiborne County Office on Aging and has been started with grant funding and support from the East Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability.
For more information on SMiles, to volunteer or to RSVP for the informational meeting, contact Tamara Austin, program administrator, at 423-526-6040. The program is headquartered in the Tazewell Senior Citizens Center.
Reach Marisa Anders at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @newsgirl88.