GREENFIELD — Teasa Thompson is the best intern Paula Jarrett can remember.
Thompson helped with United Way of Central Indiana’s Day of Caring some 10 years ago, and Jarrett, the area east director, still remembers the energy, poise and creativity she brought to the position.
Those same traits will serve Thompson well as she takes on the executive director position at Hancock County Senior Services, Jarrett said Thursday at a reception seeing off the retiring executive director, Linda Hart, who served in the position for 17 years.
After a months-long search for a successor, leaders with Hancock County Senior Services announced Thompson has been named the next executive director of the nonprofit organization that provides transportation, handyman service, respite care and more to seniors and people with disabilities in Hancock County. Thompson has trained for the past two weeks alongside Hart, whose last day is today.
“She’s got the one thing I don’t have anymore, which is youthful energy,” Hart joked.
The senior services board of directors interviewed some 30 applicants, whittling their finalists down to three, said board chair Phyllis Polizotto.
“Teasa was energetic, positive and knowledgeable,” she said.
Polizotto said Thompson’s experience with organizations helping seniors across the state made her résumé and interviews stand out from the rest of the applicants.
Thompson, a graduate of Indiana University — Bloomington with a master’s degree from IU’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, has worked for CICOA Aging and In-Home Solutions and the United Way of Central Indiana.
Thompson most recently worked for the state, leading a behavioral health initiative. She worked to implement quality improvement statewide for mental health and substance abuse in hospitals, primary care physicians’ offices and local communities.
She also worked with Qsource, a nonprofit healthcare quality improvement and information technology consultancy headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. As a contractor, she worked to improve healthcare in the Hoosier state with the organization, Polizotto said.
Thompson aims to sustain the road Hart has paved in her 17 years as executive director, she said.
Amanda Everidge, who has served on the senior services board of directors for six years, said the board members involved in succession planning were very pleased with Thompson’s qualifications.
Everidge admitted she almost can’t imagine senior services without Hart at the helm but believes the organization is in great shape. She cited Senior Services’ building and its great results from inspections by the Indiana Department of Transportation and United Way of Central Indiana as assets.
“She has prepared this organization to function at its best capacity,” she said. “Our agency is at optimal functioning; it’s a great time for someone else to take the reins.”
Under Hart’s guidance, the organization expanded its senior transportation program, Hancock Area Rural Transit, into a public transit system, offering rides to people of any age in Hancock County. During that transition, trips taken by people utilizing the program increased from 8,000 to nearly 22,000 per year.
The transit system helps those without vehicles as well as those who cannot drive, officials said.
Senior services works to address the issue of loneliness and isolation among older populations. Those who make meals, clean house or help with maintenance also take time to chat, making sure those they help receive the good feelings that come from socializing.
It’s a culture Hart created, one that makes a difference to clients like Jackie Shaw of Greenfield.
Shaw has three different employees or volunteers of senior services who visit every weekday to help her with meals, laundry or even grocery shopping.
“Sometimes I don’t have anything for them to do aside from meals, so we sit and talk,” she said. “The ladies are just marvelous.”
The organization employs about 20 drivers in its rural transit system. Jim Samuelson, who drove a van for the organization for about six years, visited with Hart on Thursday evening during her retirement reception.
Hart was protective of clients and staff during her tenure as director, Samuelson said. He praised her ability to make hard work look easy.
“She’s been (great) to work with,” he said. “She’s one of those people who couldn’t be better for the job.”