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NV Rides with Jennifer Kanarek

(May 29, 2019) Catherine Read sits down with NV Rides Program Manager Jennifer Kanarek to discuss volunteer driving programs in Northern Virginia that support older adults who are aging in place.

In 2012, Fairfax County ran a large-scale survey of older adults to find out what they were looking for in their community as they age. The county recognized that the aging population was growing faster than any other segment, and that older adults were looking to remain in their homes as they age.  Fairfax sought input on their needs, and the result was the 50+ Community Action Plan that was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in September of 2014. Over 30 initiatives were born out of this wide-ranging survey.

Transportation was identified as a key concern. As older adults stop driving, they face the challenge of how to safely remain in their homes. Several communities throughout the county had already established volunteer driving programs to help support their aging neighbors. These programs, however, were operating independently and in silos.

The idea of NV Rides was to bring these programs together into a centralized network, and provide support and infrastructure so that they could increase capacity. This new concept of a coordinated “hub” would provide a backbone infrastructure, along with a network of professionals to collaborate with.

Member benefits include use of a cloud-based RideScheduler software platform, and background checks to ensure that the drivers pass a minimum safety check. In addition, NV Rides is responsible for helping to get new programs off the ground and provide marketing support.

Fairfax County then went on a search for a community organization willing to take on the management aspect of this program. They found a partner in the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. The “J” already has a wide variety of programming for adults, and found the concept of NV Rides to be mission-consistent with its approach to community engagement. In partnership with the Jewish Council for the Aging out of Montgomery County, MD and the Fairfax County Government, the “J” agreed to move forward.

Today, the NV Rides network consists of 13 member organizations located throughout the region. There are a combination of Shepherd’s Centers, Villages, communities of faith and public-private partnerships in the network. The beauty of this structure is that each community can come together to determine the solution that works best for them.

Each network partner operates independently, and can setup guidelines and procedures that meet their needs. However, all of the organizations do require that their clients be ambulatory, meaning that they have to be able to walk to the car.   Most of the groups also require lead-time of 3-5 days, in order to be able to ensure that they can find a driver.

According to the 2018 annual report, each year about 500 volunteer drivers give approximately 12,000 rides to their neighbors in need here in Northern Virginia. However, the drivers think of themselves as more than just a ride. Isolation one of the top causes of depression in older adults, and the relationships that drivers and passengers build is a wonderful secondary benefit. The biggest challenge that the partner organizations face is recruiting enough volunteer drivers to meet the demand for rides. Currently, there are twice as many rides that are requested, as there are drivers to give them.

As NV Rides rolls into its fifth year of operation, they are operating under a new round of funding from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Through this grant, NV Rides is looking to expand the number of volunteer driver programs into areas where there is a gap in coverage in Fairfax, as well as neighboring jurisdictions such as Prince William County.

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