Friday February 22nd, 2019 6:32PM

Transportation non-profit for Hall seniors well on its way for first year funds

GAINESVILLE - The co-chairman of a non-profit designed to help Hall County seniors get rides to various locations they need to go said the organization has raised about a third to half of its first year operations budget.

Gary Lawrence said iTNLanier recently got what he called a substantial financial committment from Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) for the startup of the organization.

"A lack of transportation resources was one of the barriers to health care access identified in our most recent community health needs assessment, so we are very supportive of this community transportation initiative," president and CEO of NGHS Carol Burrell said.

iTNLanier, a pre-affiliate with iTNAmerica, hopes to set up an arm-in-arm and door-through-door volunteer-based ride service for seniors. Volunteers and their vehicles would be screened to give the rides and provide assistance to the clients.

Lawrence said organization officials hope to raise the remainder of the first year's operating budget before the non-profit officially starts up. He said that amount is about $175,000.

Lawrence said he sees iTNLanier as a good supplement to the current government and retirement community transportation options.

Clients will be able to call an iTNLanier dispatcher and secure a ride at any hour of the day or any day of the year. Lawrence said the flexibility of the program includes the cost to the rider.

"Roughly a fare is going to be about half of a commercial taxi ride."

He said no cash will ever exchange hands during the actual ride. Clients will be able to set up a transportation account. That account will be debited for the rides.

Lawrence said the non-profit will have scholarships available for riders who can't afford the service. iTNLanier also be able to accept vehicles that are longer used as donations. The proceeds of the sale can be applied to the client's account.

Lawrence expects about half of iTNLanier's operating funds will go to cover actual costs, including supplemental insurance, an executive director and staff, such as the dispatchers.

While clients will certainly use the service for medical appointments, Lawrence said iTNAmerica has indicated seniors use the service for much more.

"It's also the hairdresser, church, shopping trips that people want to go on, grocery store visits and a lot of senior events," Lawrence said.

In addition to the mostly volunteer force of drivers, iTNLanier will have some paid drivers in order to accomplish the 24/7 service goal.

While the service is expected to benefit clients, Lawrence confirmed that often the volunteers find the experience rewarding. He said some clients have become so fond of a particular driver that they request that person whenever they need a ride.

Lawrence said iTNLanier hopes to begin scheduling rides this summer, possibly in July.

"You know, one in nine people right now in Hall County are over 65 and by 2030, we're looking at 20 to 30 percent of the population on the projected growth to be over 65. A significant group of those people probably will not be able to drive themselves," Lawrence added.

The non-profit already has 24 people serving either on its board or advisory council. He said they're fanning out across Hall County to secure the remaining first year's operating budget.

The organization is using the North Georgia Community Foundation as its fiscal agent.
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