Senior Companion volunteers provide meaningful support to elderly homebound.

Senior Companion volunteers provide meaningful support to elderly homebound.

By Mike Steely

The Community Action Committee offers many, many programs to the citizens of Knoxville, including those handled within the Office On Aging.  The programs are so numerous that The Focus will spend a couple issues looking at what’s available to seniors.

Recently The Focus met with Nancy LaFaro, Fred Massingill and Kathy Burke with the Office On Aging. The Director, Susan Long, was not available for the meeting. LaFaro and Massingill said the various programs, 18 in all, are greatly dependent on volunteers.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” LaFaro said.

Massingill said funding for the Office On Aging comes from a variety of sources including fund raising, federal and state grants, city and county funding, and grants from private foundations. The office applies for the funding and the office also partners with corporations for some of the programs. The majority of its funding, about 47% of its annual budget, comes from the Federal Government. Knoxville and Knox County contribute about 14% each, 5% comes from the state, and 21% comes from private contributions.

The programs administered by the Office on Aging include SNAP, Affordable Medicine Options, Computers for Homebound and Isolated Persons, Foster Grandparents, Gift of Sight, Hearing and Dentures, Knox County CAC Transit, Knox Paws that places animals with seniors, the O’Conner Senior Center, One Call Club, Project LIVE, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, Senior Citizens Information and Referral Service, Senior Employment Service, Senior Nutrition Program and Mobile Meals, and Volunteer Assisted Transportation.

The Knoxville-Knox County Council On Aging is the advisory board to the Office On Aging. It meets the second Tuesday of each month, except for July and August, at the O’Conner Senior Center at 611 Winona Street just off Magnolia Avenue. There are no dues for membership and any person or group wanting to join can file an application at the Office On Aging.

Here’s a closer look at some of the Office On Aging programs:


Back in May the Community Action Committee’s Office on Aging received a $25,000 grant from the National Council on Aging to enroll seniors on the SNAP program. Formerly known as Food Stamps, the SNAP program can, on average, provide $119 a month to a senior living alone.

SNAP is a credit card you’d use at a supermarket checkout. SNAP can also be used at some Senior Citizens Centers and for meal delivery by some agencies like Meals On Wheels.

The grant for SNAP for seniors is allowing the Office on Aging staff to educate more seniors over 60 about how easy it is to apply for the program. The amount received depends on the person’s total gross monthly income, the number of people in the household, etc. The income counts Social Security before the Medicare withholding, all household income, etc.

The program is open to low-income people, 60 years of age or older or disabled. You might ask the office about deducting rent, mortgage, utilities, phone or monthly medical expenses. The Office On Aging’s Susan Bradford has been making the rounds to various community meetings spreading the word about the effort to inform seniors about the SNAP program.

The best way to find out if you, a family member, or a neighbor are eligible is to apply for the program; you may be able to get a lot more in benefits than you imagine. If you think you could use a little more grocery money you should contact the Office On Aging at (865)524-2786.


Volunteer Assisted Transportation

Nancy Welch, Assistant Program Director for the volunteer driver program, has also been visiting various community groups to talk about the program and to recruit volunteers. The Volunteer Assisted Transportation (VAT) is part of the Office On Aging but operates as its own department. VAT provides rides for seniors and the disabled in agency-owned hybrid sedans and wheelchair accessible minivans. Trained drivers provide “through the door” transportation to those in need.

The ride fares are $3 each inside Knox County and $6 for a round trip. Out of county fares vary and a sliding scale fair is available based on needs.

The VAT transports people to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, prescription pickups, social and recreation events and other important trips.

Volunteers receive CPR and first-aid certification, complete an AAA Driver Improvement Program, are trained in passenger assistance and get a vehicle orientation.

The program is funded under an agreement with the Federal Transit Administration and the state Department of Transportation and is administered by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization.

Anyone interested in applying for a ride can contact the VAT office at (865)673-5001 and complete a rider application. Eligibility is based on an assessment and, once eligible, the rider can call the program and place ride requests.


Senior Companions

The Senior Companion Program is unique. It has a dual purpose of providing low-income adults over 55 with a meaningful volunteer experience as well as helping the area’s homebound elderly. Trained Senior Companions work with home health clients who often have no other support, comfort hospice patients and become a support system and family to those alone and ill.

Most of the seniors served are in their 70s, 80s or older.


Grandparents as Parents

“There has been a dramatic rise over the last 25 years in the number of relative or grandparent-led households, meaning households in which the grandparents or relatives are raising children,” said Kathy Burke.

Grandparents as Parents (GAP) offers support and information for those who “stand in the gap” for children with absentee parents. The program provides information, referrals to community agencies, advocacy with a court or school system, a listening ear, and peer support.

“More and more often GAP staff and volunteers are seeing overwhelmed grandparents coming into the program with babies who were born with drug or alcohol syndrome and with the physical, mental and emotional problems that accompany that syndrome. In GAP they find the emotional support, the heartfelt ’we understand‘ and the vital information they need to be able to get through each day, one day at a time,” Burke said.

Foster Grandparents Program

Seniors 55 and older can volunteer up to 20 hours a week and get a small stipend to take part in children’s programs in Knox and Blount County. Volunteers serve in 38 different community agencies such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Head Start and many more.


Senior Citizens Information and Referral Service

The Senior Citizens Information and Referral Service (SCIRS) provides information about services in Knox County and referrals when necessary. The SCIRS can be reached at (865) 546-6262.

Begun in 1968 the program moved to the Office On Aging in 2004 and is the entry point for people 60 years and older or disabled looking for services.  SCIRS provides information about social service agencies, church groups, families or caregivers. Information is also available on health, employment, housing, transportation, legal services, recreation and support groups.

In 2008 the office assumed responsibility for the East Tennessee 211 service and took over the One Call Club program.