Local senior centers offer transportation service

By Angela Spencer Published May 8, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Angela Spencer

Dennis Riley, right, helps Lila Dugger into the Independence County Senior Citizens Program van after a lunch at the senior center. The van is one service offered to senior citizens to help them get to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store and other activities.

BATESVILLE — When a senior citizen who does not drive needs to see a doctor or get to the grocery store, transportation can be an issue. Even if family members are far away or occupied, and friends are unavailable, there may be options to help seniors get to where they need to be.

“If you are 60 and older and you need a way to the store, the doctor, the pharmacy, there are state and federal funds to make that happen,” said Darlene Fowler, senior center coordinator for the White River Area Agency on Aging.

The White River Area Agency on Aging is a private nonprofit that supports senior services in Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Sharp, Stone, Van Buren, White and Woodruff counties.

The agency’s core mission is to administer federal and state funds for meal programs, transportation, socialization and health, wellness and family-caregiver services with Older Americans Act Title III funding.

Local senior centers in the 10 counties covered by the White River Area Agency on Aging can provide transportation for senior citizens, and the agency will reimburse the center with funds from the government.

Fowler said the demand for the service has declined recently, possibly because many do not know it is offered.

Funding is also an issue. Government funds do not cover all of the costs associated with the program, and some local agencies may struggle with the cost of gas, insurance and upkeep.

In Independence County, eight vans are available for senior transit through the Independence County Senior Citizens Program.

“We keep the roads pretty busy,” said Pat Dunegan, executive director of the program. She said the senior citizens that utilize the county’s senior citizen program often use the transportation option, but there are probably senior citizens who do not know about it and therefore do not use it.

“As always, we’re in need of more funding,” she said. “We get the reimbursements, but that doesn’t come near covering the cost.”

Like programs in other counties, Dunegan said, Independence County does not charge senior citizens for using the transportation service but does ask for voluntary contributions to keep the wheels rolling.

Machelle Mitchell, a former White River Area Agency on Aging Senior Center coordinator, said the senior centers apply for grants when they become available.

Mitchell, who now works in another role at the Area Agency on Aging, said the transportation program has changed with the new “generational wave.”

“It has moved from a set shopping day to an on-demand service,” she said.

Mitchell noted that the need is great in rural areas where transit systems are not viable. In her experience with the Area Agency on Aging, she has seen situations where senior citizens do not have a friend or family member to call when they need to go somewhere. Other times, they simply do not want to keep asking the same people for a ride multiple times per week.

“They hate to keep asking, but they need to have a source to ask in case they need to get somewhere,” she said. “And I think the need is more than we even know.”

Fowler said senior citizens within the Area Agency on Aging’s coverage borders can contact their local senior centers to inquire about county-specific transportation.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

Zoned Editions Staff Writer Angela Spencer can be reached at 501-244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

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