By Meg Dickens
Johnson County does not offer public transportation such as busses or shuttles to the community, other than typical school transportation. According to Johnson County Senior Center Director Kathy Motsinger, the only transit available here is MyRide Tennessee Johnson County. Motsinger and her team launched this senior-centered program near the end of 2018 to an overwhelming response. Now its three-year grant is about to expire, and Motsinger is reaching out to the city and county government for support.
“I do not want to lose this program, and I will do everything I can to continue MyRide and Meals on Wheels services at the senior center,” said Motsinger. “This program is something our city and our county should contribute to.”
Motsinger approached the Mountain City Council at its most recent meeting about increasing the senior center’s funding but was not given a definitive answer. The city has raised the center’s funding once since Motsinger took over and ballooned membership from the mid 300s to over 1,000. At the time of this article, the Johnson County Senior Center has over 1,600 members and is still growing.
MyRide had to give 500 rides and travel 5,000 miles in its first three years per grant requirements. Johnson County’s program met that goal within the first eight months and reached 2,193 rides at the end of March 2021 to 78 unduplicated clients. To this date, none of the volunteer drivers have turned in mileage for gas reimbursement, according to Motsinger.
The program was meant to be self-sufficient after its first three years but suffered like many other organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising opportunities were scarce, and needs were higher than the norm. Most funding that came through its doors went towards feeding seniors in the area, feeding an average of 70 people per weekday. Although its doors were closed, the center and its volunteers continued to work throughout the pandemic.
“From June 2020-January 2021, Johnson County Senior Center provided 5,682 hot meals,” said FTHRA Director of Nutrition Services Stephanie Walker. “This is more than Greene, Carter, and Unicoi counties put together.”
MyRide costs approximately $30,000 to run each year, according to Motsinger. She is asking the city and county to add $15,000 to its budget apiece so that the program can continue. Membership fees from the program go towards salaries and scholarships for seniors who need transportation but cannot afford fees. Motsinger estimates that the additional tax funds local governments made from alcohol sales would be more than enough.
Motsinger will be speaking at the Johnson County Commission Budget Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 25, to ask for its support. Representatives from the FTAAAD (First Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability) and FTHRA (First Tennessee Human Resource Agency) sent letters of support to County Mayor Mike Taylor. Find out more about MyRide Tennessee Johnson County and the Johnson County Senior Center at (423) 727-8883.