COCKE COUNTY—Transportation can be one of the biggest barriers facing today’s older adults especially in remote or rural areas where public transit is not always accessible.

A simple trip to the store or arranging transport for multiple errands and appointments can be nearly impossible for many elderly individuals.

In response to that need, Empower Cocke County has worked to secure grant funding for a state program known as MyRide that uses a volunteer based transportation service offering a door to door style of assistance for the senior rider. The new Cocke County program is now called Empower MyRide TN.

The program is centered on transportation, but Regional Director Denise West said the services can broaden to mean so much more.

“We want this to be more than a ride for both the volunteer driver and rider. Typically we see that our volunteers become very close to their riders and develop a friendship,” West said.

Scheduling a Trip

When the senior citizen finds need for a ride, they can call Empower Cocke County to schedule transportation. The ride needs to be scheduled three days in advance and each trip can include up to three stops. The stops can be a compilation of miscellaneous stops to include, doctor appointments, stops to the bank, pharmacy, grocery store or even something as simple as to visit a friend or relative.

“We had one senior who just wanted to go to McDonald’s once a week and liked her volunteer to eat with her. She just enjoyed the company and the chance to get out of the house,” West said.

Riders can expect to have one on one assistance from the front door of their home to the car and the same upon returning home.

The personal touch offered by the program has been received successfully in other counties and it enhances the social lives of elderly that may live seclusion.

“A volunteer may be the only person that this senior citizen sees all week or even all month. It’s such a need for so many here in the county, and it’s a blessing to see a program like this come together as an outreach for our elderly,” said County Program Director Gem Lieser.

Rewarding the Driver

Those who volunteer to drive for Empower MyRide will receive gas mileage reimbursement on a quarterly basis and enjoy bonus items such as Empower MyRide shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs and key chains.

Outside of these benefits are ones more personally related as drivers become almost like extended family to the rider and can assist by becoming the senior citizens go to individual.

Empower Executive Director Annette Burke hopes to encourage volunteers to be another set of “eyes and ears” for the rider they assist. An example may be noticing if your rider is losing an excessive amount of weight, not having enough food in the house or becoming more confused and forgetful.

Many local senior citizens have no family or no family living close enough to see a decline in their daily functions or overall health.

How You Can Help

Empower MyRide is currently signing up volunteer drivers and seniors needing transportation. All drivers must have their own vehicle and car insurance, but are covered by a second “umbrella” insurance offered through CIMA.

Volunteer trainings will take place every other Thursday at 10 a.m. starting Feb. 6, and all volunteers will receive a handbook, code of conduct and Empower MyRide t-shirt on the initial training day. Background checks will be conducted on all volunteer drivers.

Anyone interested in driving or being a senior citizen rider can contact Empower Cocke County at 423-532-1308 or by email to gem@empowercockecounty.com

The funding for this project was provided through a grant awarded by the Davidson County Chancery Court, Part III from the Senior Trust/Elder Trust Settlement and through a contract administered by the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability.

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