Special thanks to guest blogger Keita Cole with the Senior Volunteer Transportation Network (SVTN) for providing the following overview of a cutting-edge coalition that is supporting the work and development of volunteer transportation programs in Tennessee.
“Have you ever wondered how you would get to the grocery store if you were not able to drive? What about if you had a health scare and your doctor told you that you would not be able to drive for three months? Now, imagine that is something you have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Driving is a natural part of life for most people, they have never stopped to think how they would get around town, go grocery shopping or to the doctor. Older Americans are having to deal with this problem more and more as they age, and Tennessee is trying to help with this ongoing and ever increasing problem.
According to the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) there are 1.1 Million Tennesseans over the age of 65. The top three concerns of older adults in Tennessee are:
1. Health Concerns
2. Lack of Healthcare
3. Lack of accessible transportation
To meet the needs of older adults in Tennessee, the Senior Volunteer Transportation Network (SVTN) was established in April 2018 as a coalition of stakeholders interested in transportation options for older adults. The coalition was formed out of the SeniorTrust/ElderTrust grant administered by the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) and awarded by the Davidson County Chancery Court (Part III from the SeniorTrust/ElderTrust settlement, Case No. 11-1548-III and through a contract administered by TCAD). This group of individuals represent a network of volunteer transportation programs, state agencies, civic organizations, and other grant award recipients working together to create a network of resources to aid in volunteer recruitment and transportation.
What makes the SVTN unique?
Volunteer transportation has been around for centuries, dating back to 1300 BC to the days of the ancient Greeks (source: NADTC). However, the needs, comforts, and expectations of older adults have drastically changed over the years, so volunteer transportation has had to adapt. The SVTN has created a network of programs expanding the state offering door-through-door transportation to those who qualify for the service. Door-through-door is unique because it allows the client to receive as little or as much assistance needed. The volunteers are trained to stay with the client and help them through the grocery store, assist with checking in at the doctor’s office, or help carry their groceries into their homes. It is more than just a ride to and from an appointment. This type allows the riders and drivers to build a bond and connection. Being able to still do things with minimal assistance helps the rider feel like they still have independence and are not a burden to family and friends.
How does the SVTN operate?
The operation of the SVTN is overseen by the Southwest West Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability (SWAAAD) located in the western part of the Tennessee. The SWAAAD applied for and was awarded this grant to expand already existing volunteer transportation in an effort to reach more rural/densely populated areas across the state. Eight of the nine Area Agency’s on Aging and Disability (AAAD) signed on to join SWAAAD in creating the SVTN. In addition to the new programs, five already existing volunteer transportation programs (Legacy Partners) joined the SVTN as well. With this grant, Tennessee is tasked with creating 30 new volunteer transportation, providing 15,000 trips, assisting 1,500 riders and utilizing 1,500 volunteers over the next three and a half years. The money awarded to Tennessee from the SeniorTrust/ElderTrust grant was $3.6 Million to accomplish these goals.
How do the programs work?
Each program is given a general outline of how to begin a volunteer transportation program, tools to assist with setup, policies & procedures, budgets, and marketing; but they are allowed the freedom to customize it to their community to meets its needs. Some programs operate within one county, some cross county lines, others only allow transportation for doctor’s appointments while some will take their riders anywhere they need to go, including the beauty shop. The common qualifications and guidelines that are required by the grant are the following: the rider must be over the age of 60, the rider must live in the county of operation, the rider must be able to ambulate with minimal assistance (cane/walker/portable oxygen – no wheelchairs), and the rider must be able to make their own decisions and handle their own finances. Most programs charge a membership fee and then a per-ride fee, but the cost is minimal and sometimes there are scholarship opportunities.
What is the impact in Tennessee?
In April 2019, the SVTN completed their first year of the grant. One of the goals on the original grant application was to complete 15,000 trips across Tennessee in three years. We are proud to say, that at the end of year one, we have completed almost 17,000 trips. We also had the goal of creating 10 new volunteer transportation programs in year one, and because of our amazing partners, volunteers and the hard work of each AAAD, we have created 11 new programs in Tennessee. The SVTN is well on its way of making a statement about transportation for older adults in rural areas. We are very proud of all that we have accomplished. We receive feedback from our riders on how thankful they are that this program came along, because without the wonderful things happening in Tennessee they may not be able to still live independently and that would greatly affect their quality of life.
What are the key takeaways?
The biggest thing to remember when thinking about implementing a program similar to this is VOLUNTEERS ARE KEY!!! These types of programs are literally “Volunteer Driven” and without them we could not make this an affordable option for older adults. Yes, you need a dedicated staff and a community that will embrace the idea of volunteer transportation, but without your volunteer drivers, you will not be able to sustain a program. Volunteer recruiting is a continual process and can be a challenge at times. But if you work hard at it and use the current volunteers you have to tell their story and share how they have been changed by helping someone in need, you will be able to grow a very productive and rewarding program.
For more information contact Keita Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org