Leela Rudratatna’s garage door begins to open before the car even enters her driveway. She is waiting for Travis White to pick her up and take her to a physical therapy appointment.
Rudratatna, a 79-year-old Clifton, Va., resident, relies on White to take her to medical appointments and to the supermarket. She lives alone and prefers not to drive long distances or to unfamiliar places.
White is a volunteer driver for NV Rides, a partner organization of the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. NV Rides shuttles people ages 55 years and older, as well as disabled individuals. They cover Arlington, Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.
Rudratatna climbs into White’s car with bananas and berries as a gift for her driver. They’ve been driver and passenger many times and White says she often brings fruit for him. As she climbs into the back seat of White’s black SUV, Rudratatna describes him as “like a brother to me.”
Rudratatna, has been using NV Rides for six months. “I can’t find words to tell how helpful it is,” she says. “All the gentlemen and women who pick me up are so patient with me.”
White, 83, says it is common for drivers and riders to develop friendships. He knows one rider who enjoys going out to lunch after every drive, no matter who the driver may be that day.
“It’s satisfying and rewarding to experience their gratitude,” White says of his passengers. “You know you’re doing something important.”
White himself is retired, having had one career in the military and another working for Allstate Insurance. He says most NV Rides drivers are retired just like him.
“Our drivers want to give back something to the community,” White says. “Some of them we recruit, while some find us. They’re all dedicated to this.”
Emily Braley, manager of NV Rides, says volunteers can also visit people at home to socialize and offer a service such as changing a light bulb or fixing a computer. Drivers can also act as couriers and deliver a pharmacy or grocery store order.
Braley said people’s need for rides and services like this increased during COVID-19 because they needed to get things that they couldn’t travel out to get themselves.
NV Rides has about 900 volunteers. In 2021, it gave 20,377 rides, visits and deliveries. In other years, the rides ranged from 10,000 to 15,000, Braley says.
“If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s that we depend on each other in our community to get through things,” Braley says.
The program’s $225,000 annual budget is funded by the Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. NV Rides recently won a $5,000 first place Best Practices Award from the Commonwealth Council on Aging.
The demand for NV Rides’ services will only grow, Braley says. Fourteen percent of Fairfax County residents are 65 years or older, and that number is rising.
White’s SUV pulls up to the medical building and Rudratatna gets out. It’s been 10 minutes since their ride began. She has an hour of physical therapy ahead of her. Their rides together are short, but they both know they will see each other again next week.