Blount County Community Action Agency to launch senior transportation program SMiles on Oct. 1
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Blount County Community Action Agency has hired a new transportation director to oversee the launch of its new Senior Miles (SMiles) program in October.
SMiles will provide door-through-door transportation for Blount residents who are age 60-plus, do not drive, are ambulatory and in need of reliable, safe rides for essential trips.
Transportation Director Eric Hinkle started work on Aug. 8. He has been busy recruiting volunteer drivers for the program.
“We have had just a huge amount of support from the community,” he said in an interview. “We’re going out ... and participating in luncheons, giving presentations about the SMiles program and getting the word out — building our volunteer pool for the most part.”
Originally from Greeneville, Hinkle recently retired from the U.S. Army. His background is in military police work and human resources through the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
The program will go live on Oct. 1. Finding enough volunteers is vital to the success of the program, Hinkle said.
“You can never have too many. We have a goal of reaching 100 volunteers within the first year. We are just in the process (of recruiting). We have currently, with background checks complete, a total of 14.”
Those wanting to volunteer, who are over the age of 21 with valid driver’s licenses and have proof of insurance, can call Hinkle at 865-724-1331.
SMiles is not a form of public transportation. Seniors will be able to purchase a designated number of $6 round-trip rides in advance with an annual membership fee of $25. Family members and friends of seniors can give a membership or pre-pay for rides in advance for a loved one.
Volunteers will be recruited, screened and trained before being accepted as SMiles drivers. They will use their own vehicles to provide rides and can receive either gas reimbursement or IRS tax-deduction documentation, if preferred.
Senior riders who are SMiles members will be able to schedule transportation with three days’ advance notice. Drivers who provide transportation will wait with the riders at appointments or when grocery shopping so that the senior rider can be taken immediately home and not have to call ahead and wait for the return trip home.
“SMiles is designed to be senior-friendly and enhance quality of life,” said Joani Shaver, who oversees the SMiles program through BCCAA’s Office on Aging, in a press release. “Seniors often feel stranded, isolated or trapped as they struggle to get where they need to go. Through SMiles, seniors will gain access to an affordable and convenient mode of transportation that’s better able to meet their needs.”