Celebrate Mardi Gras in style with masks, beads, live music, a dance contest and pizza Feb. 13 at Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria in downtown Maryville. The event is the first ever SMiles Mardi Gras Party, and everything from food to fun is being offered free of charge to the public. However, donations to the Senior Miles, or SMiles, Program are encouraged to help the program continue its mission of providing safe, reliable transportation for non-driving seniors to medical appointments, the grocery store, etc. SMiles is a program of the Blount County Office on Aging, part of the Blount County Community Action Agency.

Joani Shaver, director of the Blount County Office on Aging, said, “It starts at 5:30 p.m. and will go until 8. So it’s early Mardi Gras — it’s for old people! There will be pizza, a King’s Cake, beads and masks and all the trappings. It’s free, but we’re encouraging people to bring their checkbooks and donate to SMiles.”

In addition, Volunteer Action Civitan Club is donating gift baskets for a silent auction.

Live music,

photo booth

Shaver said the idea for a Mardi Gras party came about in December when Edward Harper, a member of the popular Blount County-based band, Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, offered the band’s services at no charge to raise funds for the program. As she and Brooke Whitehead, RSVP volunteer coordinator for SMiles, began checking on dates, they found that Barley’s had nothing scheduled for Mardi Gras. “So, we’re doing Mardi Gras!” Shaver said. “Normally, we would never do something on this short of notice, but this just fell into our laps.”

Pistol Creek Catch of the Day will provide live music, and a dance contest will be held. Harper has asked all the area mayors to come together and participate in a line dance, Shaver said.

“We’d love for people to come dressed up,” Shaver added. “We’ll have a photo booth set up so they can have their pictures taken.” There will be a nominal fee for the photos.

A cash bar will be offered, as well.

Current sponsors are Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, The Daily Times and ALCOA Tenn Credit Union, but Shaver said other sponsors are being sought. Contact her at jshaver@blountcaa.org.

All proceeds will go to the SMiles Program.

SMiles

According to information provided by Shaver, the mission of SMiles is to improve the quality of life for Blount County seniors by providing courteous and safe door-through-door volunteer transportation to those eligible, enabling them to obtain essential services and maintain their independence, dignity and community involvement.

A nationally recognized program, SMiles is senior-friendly transportation for Blount County residents who are 60-plus, are ambulatory with help from a cane or walker, live independently and can communicate. They are taken where they want to go within Blount County by volunteers who drive their own vehicles. Riders pay a modest membership fee plus $6 per ride.

Launched in October 2013, SMiles has provided more than 19,000 trips that covered 104,000 miles within Blount County. The impact of re-engaging SMiles’ members in the community is important from many standpoints, in addition to their quality of life. Medical care is improving (over 50 percent of SMiles rides are for medical appointments); riders are volunteering, participating in fitness and church activities, getting groceries and visiting friends; drivers are providing caring conversations and individual attention to riders; relatives are not taking time off work to transport mom or dad; and, Shaver said, “Most importantly, SMiles brings back a freedom that was lost.”

By using volunteers driving their own autos, the program is affordable for the riders and for the community, but there are costs. SMiles has a full-time manager and pays for office space at the Blount County Community Action Agency. Other expenses include insurance, training for volunteers, criminal background checks, mileage and the software used by the program’s 127 volunteers to schedule themselves for rides. Financial support from the community is essential for the future of SMiles.

Volunteer drivers are also needed. “We always have a waiting list for riders, so the more volunteer drivers we recruit, the less chance that people who need rides will have to wait,” Shaver said.

The next volunteer driver class will be held Jan. 31. For more information, contact Shaver.

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