Occupational Therapy, Enactus Students Support Senior Ride Nashville

Senior Ride Nashville volunteer driver Vicki helps and gives a ride to Celia from FiftyForward in Madison to her home not far away in Nashville, Tennessee, May 30, 2018.
Senior Ride Nashville volunteer driver Vicki helps and gives a ride to Celia from FiftyForward in Madison to her home not far away in Nashville, Tennessee, May 30, 2018.

Though Senior Ride Nashville (SRN), a local nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable and assisted transportation to older adults in the Nashville community, has only two and a half full time staff members, the team becomes much larger when considering the Belmont students who have become actively engaged in the organization’s mission. Launched just six months ago in late 2017, SRN has provided more than 800 trips for nearly 90 riders throughout the West Nashville and Madison communities. Looking forward, the team plans to be county-wide by 2020.

Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy Dr. Debra Gibbs has been part of the SRN family since before the organization began. With a personal interest in senior mobility that has grown from caring for aging family members, Gibbs understood the value of a volunteer ride program that would provide independence and social interaction for riders. As a board member of the Council of Aging in Greater Middle Tennessee, Gibbs had the opportunity to become a key player in the creation of SRN, even going so far as to bring her occupational therapy (OT) students with her.

As part of their doctoral curriculum, OT students across campus are required to join faculty members in their research. Given Gibbs’s deep connection to senior care, her students have taken on many projects over the last few years that continue to develop understanding in this area. One group participated in a Senior Exhibition Day providing resources to aging community members and executing their research project regarding the prevalent concerns of community dwelling senior adults. A second research group worked on SRN’s pilot program, before the organization’s launch, that identified riders’ needs and concerns about a volunteer ride program assisting SRN in integrating essential elements into their programming.

This semester, a student has been embedded at SRN for her capstone project where she’s worked on many projects including a quality of life assessment tool so team members can understand concrete outcomes associated with rider’s experience. Additionally, she’s worked on a tracking system, internal procedures, the in-home evaluation process, volunteer driver orientation and expanded opportunities for SRN to connect with the greater OT community. But Belmont’s connection to SRN’s work doesn’t end with the School of Occupational Therapy.

Dr. John Gonas, associate professor of finance, became familiar with SRN through conversations with Gibbs related to the organization and its mission. Understanding the significant need, he designated the organization as a project for Enactus, a student organization that brings together students and business leaders for social good. Each year, the group takes on community projects in a variety of areas–SRN quickly became one of those projects. Gonas, and Assistant Professor of Management Dr. Eduardo Lopez, have even gotten involved with the cause themselves as volunteer drivers completing nearly 20 total trips between the two of them.

Enactus SRN Project Manager and Belmont students Nicholas Chakinis has been involved with the organization since the fall semester when he and his team began helping with anything related to supporting SRN’s mission. Throughout the last few months, this has included creating a business plan, assessing financial stability, creating marketing strategy and more. “The best part about working with SRN is putting to action all the business knowledge I have learned during my time at Belmont and seeing the results,” Chakinia said. “Sometimes, as a student, it’s hard to comprehend the application of the lessons you’re learning; that’s why students like myself wanted to join Enactus, to put our knowledge into action for social good.”

But his involvement with SRN hasn’t just been behind a desk.

Wanting to understand exactly how the organization worked, Chakinis embarked on a ride with 94-year-old Martha for one of her weekly trips to the YMCA. While there, the duo participated in a group exercise class, one of Martha’s many activities. “What stood out to me the most while I spent the day with her is how much life she has,” he said. “Despite her physical limitations, she has the ability to exercise a few times a week and spend time out of her house interacting with peers in her exercise class. During our ride, I got to witness the friendly conversations & laughs she and her driver have created because of SRN’s services.”

Chikanis has no doubt the impact this work is having on the greater community. “Simply put, SRN’s work is important to Nashville & beyond because it allows isolated, landlocked, too-often forgotten members of our community to continually remain active & distinguishable members,” he said. “Each of these people have a story. They have wisdom and life experiences that should not be forgotten. It’s such an honor to help an organization that allows these seniors and their stories to continue contributing to our community. It’s been one of, if not the most meaningful experiences I have had during my time at Belmont.”

For SRN Executive Director Carrie Brumfield, the opportunity to have Belmont students be so deeply involved with her organization has been invaluable. “The support of our Belmont students continues to position SRN for long term success,” she said. “If not by literally driving the program like Dr. Gonas and Dr. Lopez, then by improving and streamlining policies and procedures, assessing financial sustainability, supporting volunteer recruitment efforts and so much more. Belmont is one of our most important partners. We are so thankful for all that these students, and their faculty members, have done to support our mission.”

Currently, SRN is seeking additional volunteers (age 21 and older) who are interested in driving and willing to commit to one ride per month, at minimum. For more information, click here.