The road of life can be a bumpy ride.
But Valley Program for Aging Services works to smooth that ride out with transportation services for residents older than age 60 and residents with disabilities who live in Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County.
“It lets them have an independent life,” said VPAS Senior Transportation Coordinator Kay Gentry.
VPAS sends out an annual survey about its transportation services, and Gentry said some comments include: “It’s my ‘Get out of jail free’ card,” “I can be independent with your help,” “Without you, I’d be in assisted living.”
“It’s about the most humbling yet rewarding job I’ve had,” Gentry said, who has been with VPAS for more than a year, and previously retired after working for Consumer Credit Counseling in Staunton and DuPont Community Credit Union.
Gentry hopes to get the word out that the transportation services are available.
Rider applications are renewed annually, and recently VPAS had a wait list of 171 riders, but then more volunteers signed up and the wait list was emptied.
VPAS, according to Gentry, has 19 volunteers. Only one volunteer is paid for 20 hours each week.
Volunteers provide a door-to-door service taking riders to doctor’s appointments in Waynesboro, Staunton, Augusta County, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, or to grocery shop, get their hair done or visit a store within the city the rider lives in.
“They would be picked up at their home, and taken to their destination [by a volunteer],” Gentry said. Then the volunteer returns the rider home.
Gentry said VPAS tries not to set a limit on the number of rides per rider each week.
“If I have a driver available, they can have a ride,” she said.
Volunteers are always needed to provide senior transportation, and Gentry said a volunteer can provide her time how often she can.
VPAS’s Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta Senior Transportation program began in 1990.
“It’s such a valuable service,” Gentry said.
To volunteer as a driver or to obtain a rider application, call Kay Gentry at (540) 949-7141.
Tom Reider of Waynesboro began volunteering as a driver in January. He said he drives folks around most every Monday and some Thursdays, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“They all seem appreciative of the assistance they get through this program,” said Reider, who moved to Waynesboro from Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he worked for Hershey for 20 years. Reider came to the Valley to help open the Hershey plant in Stuarts Draft and worked for 23 years before retiring in 2000.
“And life’s been good to me,” Reider said, so he enjoys giving back to the community.
He volunteers in many ways, including driving for VPAS.
“So that was just one method that I thought I could help out the city,” Reider said.
The Waynesboro/Augusta Woman’s Club donated $5,000 to VPAS for the purchase of a van.
“That was like a blessing in disguise,” Gentry said. “I was just so excited.”
According to Gentry, the Department of Rail & Public Transportation provides 80 percent of funding for VPAS’s vans, and VPAS provides 20 percent.
The total cost of a van is between $7,000 and $9,000, Gentry said, so VPAS hopes to buy a new van next year. VPAS has three vans, but replacing one of the vans is necessary. Five volunteers drive riders with their personal vehicles, and do not receive reimbursement for gasoline.
“We felt like there was a real need there,” said Anne Smith, a member of the Woman’s Club for 37 years who serves as chairman of the club’s Public Issues Committee, “and we were happy to give it to the transportation program of VPAS.”
Smith said the club had already raised the funds and chose VPAS, because, at the time, the organization had a wait list of 171 riders, and not enough volunteer drivers.
The Woman’s Club hopes to continue to raise funds annually for VPAS.
“I’m so glad. I’m 97 years old, and I feel like I’ll be needing it myself,” said Smith, who lives in Waynesboro and just stopped driving herself but has a daughter who lives nearby.
Phyllis Campbell, 81, lives in Staunton. She was born completely blind.
“And that is why [VPAS] means so much to me,” Campbell said.
Her husband died six years ago, but she said VPAS drove her to run errands even before she lost her husband.
“They take me to get my hair done, and, when I’m done, if I need to go to the bank, they also take me to the bank,” said Campbell, who retired in 2001 as music teacher at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind.
Once a week, a VPAS volunteer drives Campbell to Kroger for curb-side pickup. She said she has software on her computer at home which enables her to order groceries online. The software verbally tells her what item is displayed on the screen.
Campbell said that before curb-side pickup at the Kroger in Staunton, she always had to pay someone to go pick up groceries for her, but with Kroger’s program and VPAS, she is able to get her own groceries.
“I was able to get groceries [before], but not this independently,” Campbell said.
VPAS volunteers also drive Campbell to Faith Lutheran Church in Staunton, where she plays the organ.
She said she encourages “every blind person, first of all, to do everything they can for themselves.”
“And, truly, VPAS has meant so much to me, and to so many other people, because I’ve always felt it was a road back for people who couldn’t drive,” Campbell said.