When local non-profit Aging Together held its series of community conversations earlier this year in different parts of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board region, transportation issues were one of the most common discussions. Transportation is a growing problem for senior citizens that live in rural areas of the five county area served by Aging Together. Even those with cars or family can have issues if they are temporarily unable to drive or if family and friends cannot leave work or other obligations to drive them.
One resource that helps fill this void is the Foothills Area Mobility System or FAMS. FAMS works collaboratively to support, expand and improve transportation options in Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties focusing especially on the needs of those over 60 or disabled.
Susan Davis, the regional volunteer driver coordinator for Aging Together works alongside FAMS to help senior citizens and the disabled find transportation to medical appointments. She said the agencies are always looking for volunteer drivers.
“We have a tremendous need for transportation in these rural counties,” said Davis. “So many who are disabled or elderly depend on our services to keep up with medical treatment, pick up medications or groceries and other essential tasks. So many parts of our region are remote so walking or public transportation aren’t options.”
Davis urges community residents 21 and older with a valid driver’s license and an auto insurance policy to consider volunteering. The agency is seeing an increased need for services at the same time many of their volunteers are aging out.
“This is a great way to give back to your community without making a huge commitment,” she said. “Realistically look at your schedule. You can volunteer as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. Do what you can. Sign up for one trip per month or one trip per week. You can commit to as little as half a day. You don’t even have to use your own vehicle. We have vehicles in Madison, Orange and Culpeper at the senior centers that are available for volunteer drivers.”
Most of the volunteer drivers find the job fulfilling on many different levels and enjoy having an opportunity to help their community, pay respect to the elderly and experience personal growth.
For Kim Retka, a volunteer driver from Madison, the job has given her a chance to benefit the community while doing something she loves.
“I love to drive,” said Retka. “I grew up in D.C. and for years after we would drive up there for personal and social reasons. I never minded it; in fact I like it. For the past three years I’ve been driving one or two times per month. It feels good to help someone get where they need to go.”
Roxanne Berry, a new volunteer driver, transports both Orange and Madison County clients. She decided to volunteer as a way to give back to the community and pay respect to the elderly.
“For the past six months I’ve been driving,” said Berry. “I feel very fortunate and this is a way to help those that don’t have it quite so good. I really feel that we don’t respect our elders in this country as much as we should. This is one way to do that. I usually do one trip each week, picking up in Madison or Orange and sometimes Culpeper. It usually takes half a day minimum. What could be scheduled as an hour appointment can stretch out longer. I’ll ask if they want to stop for lunch or if they need to stop at a store as they don’t get out that often.”
Volunteer Jeff Flynn is based out of Orange County. As one of two regular drivers in the county he has noticed a growing need for this service.
“I’ve been doing this for about three and a half years now,” said Flynn. “I work with both LOWLINC and FAMS and started because I had a desire to help people. It is very rewarding. I am 77 and in very good health so many of the people I transport are younger. It reminds me how lucky I am. I say thank you Lord and keep on driving. You get an appreciation for how remote some of them live. There are a few places I pick up that are just a gravel path off a main road. You could easily miss it.”
Both Retka and Flynn caution potential volunteers to block out enough time for each job.
“My advice is to give yourself plenty of time,” said Retka. “Appointments can take longer than planned; sometimes you get traffic or have to make an unscheduled stop for medication or food.”
“If you’re taking someone to the VA, it can be a full-day commitment,” said Flynn. “This has really taught me patience. Older people work on their own time and you aren’t going to change their pace. It’s been good discipline for me.”
Davis is hoping to recruit more volunteer drivers and has reached out to local community colleges and civic organizations.
“The good outweighs the bad,” she said. “Come give us a little time. You’ll be paid in gratitude and friendship.”
For more information about FAMS visit www.fams.org. If you are interested in volunteering, contact regional volunteer driver coordinator Susan Davis at (540) 505-5900 or (540) 829-5300.