MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) — The pandemic has created the need for more volunteers to connect with seniors and those with disabilities in several East Tennessee counties.
The program called Community Connect is operated by the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Development Authority and needs at least half a dozen more drivers to take people to doctor’s appointments or to get groceries.
WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare went to Morristown on Monday to find out why more help is needed.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders at Douglas-Cherokee used to be able to recruit volunteers at community events and meetings and people would sign up.
Now, to prevent the spread of the virus, few civic organizations meet and recruiting efforts are difficult. Nevertheless, there are still elderly people and people with disabilities who need help.
John Gallion’s travel schedule is full through the end of October. He’s one of six people with the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority who drive seniors and people with disabilities to doctor’s appointments or to the grocery store.
At her office in Morristown, Shannon Collins enters appointments into the schedule for those enrolled in the Community Connect program.
She says a dozen volunteers call clients on the phone to check up on them.
However, only a handful like Gallion travel to meet clients and take them free of charge to see a doctor or to pick up food.
Gallion is the only full-time driver — others are volunteers — but more are needed to care for the growing number of clients.
“I think we probably need at least another eight volunteers for the transportation alone. We have new client applications here. I just got them entered into the system this morning,” Community Connect director Shannon Collins said. “They are new applications for people who need help with transportation or want someone to check in on them. … The numbers are growing.”
Every day, John Gallion will enter a new client’s name and their destination onto the master dry erase boards. The calendar for September is full and now most of October is filling up.
“As you can see here we are in Sevierville today, Johnson City tomorrow, and Jefferson City,” Gallion said. “We cover five counties.”
Before the pandemic Douglas-Cherokee had little trouble recruiting volunteer drivers.
However, last March there weren’t as many people who needed help with transportation and recruiting volunteer drivers was easier before COVID-19 changed everything.
“Well it’s been more challenging now,” Collins said. “I used to go out and speak at events and talk about our program to recruit volunteers. Those events just aren’t happening anymore so it has really changed how I have had to go about recruiting.”
John Gallion will be taking Robert from his home in Bean Station to a doctor in Sevierville. Robert is new to the Community Connect Program.
“I can’t get around. So, I call Douglas-Cherokee, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t get out of here, period,” Robert said.
The trip to Sevierville, Robert’s visit with the doctor, and his return trip will take most of the afternoon. Gallion will be with him the whole time.
“The reward for me is helping people out. Giving them a helping hand so their lives can be better,” Gallion said.
The telecare volunteers who offer assistance over the phone must be age 18 or older, and transportation volunteers must be age 26 or older.
All volunteers are provided with liability coverage and while volunteering drivers receive 30 cents a mile, roundtrip, to cover the cost of gas.
The Douglas-Cherokee Economic Development Authority offer these programs in Cocke, Jefferson, Hamblen, Grainger and Sevier counties.
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