Joani Shaver

Joani Shaver

NASHVILLE — SMiles, a senior-friendly transportation program of the Blount County Office on Aging, was one of 19 organizations honored nationwide today for community-based programs that successfully promote healthier aging and social connectivity.

The honor was bestowed by national health care concern Tivity Health at the 2019 Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging, held Wednesday and Thursday in Nashville.

This year’s Connectivity Summit focused on the conditions in which people live, work and age — also known as the social determinants of health — and explored how these factors impact the health of older Americans living in rural areas and solutions that can mitigate their impact.

SMiles was recognized in the storybook “Aging Well in Rural America: A Collection of Stories from the Heartland,” which highlights 19 organizations around the country that embody the spirit of improving seniors’ lives in rural America.

Joani Shaver, director of the Blount County Office on Aging, attended the summit and spoke about the spirit of volunteerism that makes SMiles possible in Blount County.

“SMiles is a win-win for everyone. Our volunteer drivers literally keep the wheels turning for our non-driving older adults. Elderly residents gain independence and reduce isolation by being able to go when and where they want to go without bothering family, neighbors or friends,” she said in a news release that announced the award.

SMiles launched in October 2013 and has provided more than 30,000 trips to 475 riders during that time. Currently, 130 volunteers form the driving team, with 14 new riders waiting to qualify for membership. SMiles always can use more drivers, Shaver said.

Using online software, volunteers select the trips they are able to complete. The only request is to provide at least one ride per month. Call 865-724-1331 for more information on how to participate. SMiles is a program of the Blount County Office on Aging, under the umbrella of the Blount County Community Action Agency, 3509 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville.

“At Tivity Health, we are committed to improving the lives of aging adults who live in rural communities,” company CEO Donato Tramuto said. “This movement begins at the community level, and we congratulate our 2019 Community Connectivity Award recipients in this mission and thank them for all that they are doing to improve the quality of life for many older adults.”

The Summit is an incubator for collaboration among diverse stakeholders to evaluate existing models of success and to consider new opportunities to address social isolation and improve the well-being of rural seniors.

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