By LISA WHALEY
25 volunteers. 46 customers. 7,852 miles. 537 travels.
Jonesborough celebrated more than 500 rides as part of its new MyRide TN transportation service Monday, and local officials are convinced this celebration is just the beginning.
‘It just keeps climbing,” said Lee Gay, volunteer transportation coordinator for the First Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability, who has been with the program from the beginning. “It’s a testimony to the value of the people in this community.”
Implemented in Jonesborough in December of last year as a transportation resource for local seniors age 60 and up, the new program has already surpassed expectations, according to Jonesborough Senior Center Director Mary Regen.
“The requirement for the grant was 500 rides in three years,” said Regen, referring to the $3.6 million statewide grant from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability that helped fund the service. “We’ve given 500 rides in less than a year. So we are very proud of that.”
According to Susan Katko, coordinator for MyRide TN in Jonesborough, the service has been a blessing for both volunteer drivers, many of whom are seniors themselves, and their passengers.
“First of all, families are so burdened these days,” she said, explaining why the program is so important in Jonesborough. “They work full time. They have their own children.”
It makes it difficult to be there for their older parents, Katko said.
And in turn, these older parents worry about being a burden for their children.
“There are also an awful lot of seniors who have no one,” Katko continued. “It’s surprising.”
In either case, MyRide provides a local solution by matching seniors in need of willing volunteers, whether for trips to the doctor’s office or the grocery store.
“We’re helping them stay healthy and also not be isolated,” Katko said. “We have a lady, for example, that we are taking to the Monday Club meetings at the Johnson City Public Library.”
As for the volunteers, Katko can’t praise them enough.
“They are dear to my heart,” she said, “because they show the capacity to help. They just want to serve. They have very big hearts.”
They also, reap the benefits of helping, she said.
“Ninety percent of my drivers are retired,” Katko said. “Some of them are lonely themselves. Some of them are cancer survivors and want to give back. A lot of them come from the churches and the senior center.
“They just want to make a positive difference.”