CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
It has been seven years — seven really long years — since Joyce Burwick’s husband died.
Since that time, the 72-year-old said, she hasn’t gotten out as often as she wanted.
Although a daughter, son-in-law and several grandchildren live with her, they keep busy running their own errands. She also said she didn’t have a well-developed network of friends her own age, and declining eyesight makes her reluctant to drive herself. So she ended up staying home a lot.
“I just didn’t do anything,” she said.
Others urged her to seek companionship and have meals at the Carl Junction Community Center, and now, thanks to a new, informal transportation program started by Smithfield Christian Church, she is able to take them up on their offer.
Gary Stubblefield, a member of the church, recently picked Burwick up one morning in the church’s van and deposited her at the front door of the Senior Center.
Stubblefield, who works in the Community Center and is executive director of the Carl Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, told Burwick that he would take her home when she was ready. But first, she said, she would need social time, lunch, a round of cards and perhaps a walk on the indoor track.
“It’s my adult time. No one talks about boys or cartoons or going potty,” Burwick said with a laugh. “It gives me a reason to get out of bed earlier, and it’s fun to meet someone my own age from my era who knew who or what I am talking about.”
Some experts say that what Smithfield Christian Church is doing — one day a week with one volunteer driver for now — could prove to be a model that other small communities could imitate to meet the needs of seniors.
Jason Ray, the transportation planner for the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, said the church’s program “is something we’ll need to see more and more of if citizens want to improve mobility or general transportation in their community or region.”
“A lot (of churches) have vans for Wednesday and Sunday use, but they are not used the rest of the week. Why not have volunteers go out with it other days?” Ray said. “What Carl Junction is doing is unique, but definitely something that could be replicated in every other community.”
Allison Riddle also likes the plan.
Transportation gaps are especially prevalent in smaller communities without any form of public transportation, said Riddle, community services director for the Area Agency on Aging.
“Those are the people we worry about, the people who can’t get to the senior centers,” she said.
“We see that the people who are active in the senior centers are more physically active. They are stronger because they’re moving. They are less likely to be depressed because they are socializing. They are out in the community.
“How to get them there is the issue. What Carl Junction is doing is a step in the right direction. Hopefully it will prompt others to follow suit.”
There’s no doubt that the need is real for smaller communities, said Lamar City Administrator Lynn Calton.
But the problem is that many communities are too small for someone to make a living providing transportation, so these towns have had to come up with models on their own. Lamar has TATS — the Truman Area Transportation Service — that is run through the Police Department five days a week. It is similar to a program in Carthage, Calton said.
Lamar pays a driver minimum wage, and uses state and other grants to subsidize the costs of the program.
“We get over 100 riders per day,” Calton said.
Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan said the city’s program is federally subsidized, but it loses money. Last month, it provided 718 trips for seniors.
“We really, truly do it as a community service,” Dagnan said. “Even though the city does take a loss on it, it is an incredible, valuable program. A senior citizen can go anywhere in town for $1.”
At the Neosho Senior Center, a not-for-profit public transportation system shuttles seniors who attend activities and eat meals at the center. It runs Mondays through Thursdays.
“They’ll pick up anyone in the city limits and even take them to Joplin to doctors’ appointments, to Wal-Mart to shop. All they have to do is give them a call,” said Marcia Ellis, the center’s manager.
Webb City does not have any form of public transportation for seniors or other residents. Many seniors rely on one another or family members to get them to the Webb City Senior Center.
“There is no bus transportation here, so the ones who come here are able to drive themselves,” said Nicole Hoffman, coordinator of the homebound meals program. “If they aren’t able to, their friends will pick them up — especially on bingo day. They kind of coordinate it amongst themselves.”
Asked if the Carl Junction model might be an option in Webb City, Hoffman said: “I would think so. ... I think in any community, what they’re doing would be a good idea.”
Ray, with the Truman Coordinating Council, is asking residents to join him and other transportation providers and organizations at a meeting Thursday in Joplin to identify groups whose transportation needs aren’t being met. He will use that information to draft a transportation coordination plan for the region.
It’s part of a new federal effort known as MAP-21: Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. Details are still being worked out, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s guidance for new regulations has yet to be published. Ray said it is known that local governments and regional groups such as the Truman Coordinating Council will be included in planning and implementing transportation projects.
Ray wants to identify current transportation providers and the transportation needs for older adults, low-income residents and the disabled, and then come up with strategies and/or activities that address gaps in transportation.
“We especially encourage any senior citizen, disabled or low-income individual to come out and voice their concerns,” he said. “Sometimes we haven’t really identified all the needs. It would be nice to be able to hear directly from people who are affected by mobility challenges in our region. We want to identify where existing gaps are, where we could get resources to help fill in those gaps.”
The federal initiative will make money available that could be used to purchase a van to shuttle seniors, for example, Ray said.
One of the things that’s different about this program is that it ensures that communities of all sizes get a share of funding. Small communities have had to compete statewide with large metropolitan areas and in some cases even with state departments of transportation, Ray said. That puts smaller communities at a disadvantage.
While the federal funding would help offset a community’s cost for transporting seniors, Ray said he believes the cost would dip even lower if a coalition of churches collaborated in smaller towns.
“When I went to a conference in Washington, D.C., I talked about how in the aftermath of the May 22 tornado, churches stepped up to provide transit services,” he said. “I wish that model could stay in place, not only as a response for disasters, but as a response for day-to-day needs.”
Get on board
A MEETING for discussion of transportation needs, options and resources that are available for communities will be conducted by the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Metro Area PublictransitJim Moss 8/21/12 stet System office, 123 S. Main St. in Joplin.
CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
It has been seven years — seven really long years — since Joyce Burwick’s husband died.
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