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The history of ITN in Sarasota County, Florida

Bringing ITN to Sarasota County was the result of a collaborative grass-roots effort—a natural way of work in our community! During a community assembly on aging hosted by Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE) in October 2006, the Sarasota community was introduced to ITN, a community-based transportation model designed exclusively to serve individuals age 60 and older. Given that Sarasota County has the largest percentage of older adults in the nation, with more than 30% of the population over 65 and with over 45% of all households including someone over 65, community leaders believed the community ripe for this model.

In addition to the transportation needs of seniors, there is also a strong spirit of volunteerism in Sarasota. Stewart Stearns, president and CEO of The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc., noted the strong desire people have to make a meaningful impact on the lives of their older neighbors. "Seniors fear losing their independence. Giving up mobility changes their lives," said Stearns. "I've seen it so many times. Dear friends go from bad to worse when they can't get around. [ITN] is a way of reviving their mobility."

SCOPE, acting as a catalyst, convened people around the alternative transportation discussion. Associate Director Suzanne Gregory said, "We've heard over and over again that transportation is a concern. People are fearful that they will lose connections to things and people they care about, and that will have an effect on their physical and mental health."

Traveling to Orlando to a Senior Mobility Forum for additional information, representatives from SCOPE and Jewish Family & Children's Service of Sarasota-Manatee, Inc. (JFCS) met Katherine Freund, ITNAmerica Founder and Executive Director, to learn more about the program. Sparked by Katherine's enthusiasm and dedication to support community affiliates implementing the ITN model, JFCS and SCOPE representatives joined with The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc. in numerous community-building activities in preparation to submit an ITN affiliate application for Sarasota County.

Learning about the ITN model was all it took for Wendy Hopkins, vice president of grants and program services for The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc., to recognize the potential for this model in the Sarasota community. With strong community involvement assured, SCOPE looked for leadership interest from foundations and nonprofits. "We applied for and received a $1000 jump-start grant from Partners for Livable Communities to bring leadership together to have a conversation about how to create an alternative system, and what would it look like." Gregory said. The group explored many other options, "and nothing compared to what ITN had to offer," said Gregory. And, given their programming for the community's senior population and their close working relationship with The Community Foundation of Sarasota, Inc. and SCOPE, Rose Chapman, Phil Gorelick, and Pam Baron, part of the JFCS leadership team, recognized that JFCS would be a natural partner in working to bring ITN to Sarasota County.

Local public transportation also was supportive of the ITN initiative. "They see this as a piece in the continuum, not competition," said Gregory. Like most areas, Sarasota is auto dependent. Public transportation can't increase service enough, and though paratransit service exists, not everyone qualifies for it.

In January of 2008, Katherine spoke with a group of community leaders and the Community Foundation's Human Services Focus Team to answer any question they had about the model. At this meeting, Katherine shared the critical thinking that went into the creation of the ITN model and her vision going forward, including how public policy fits and why reliance on government funding doesn't work.

"ITN is not a social services solution with only limited dollars to do it. This is a market solution. That shifts how you think about it. There is a fee for service and creative ways to underwrite the rest," Gregory said. "The Doubting Thomases came out of the room wanting to be on a steering committee." Everyone understood that ITN is a unique model geared toward bringing community into the solution.

With start-up funding in a multi-year commitment provided by The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc.'s James Franklin Warnell & Dorothy J. Warnell Fund and JFCS serving as the sponsoring agency, the affiliation agreement with ITNAmerica was signed in August, 2008, and Dr. Tanice Knopp was hired as ITNSunCoast Executive Director in October of 2008.