NoVa JCC launches ride service for seniors

Jim Mueller (Photo by Justin Katz)
Jim Mueller (Photo by Justin Katz)

What is Jewish about a volunteer driving network for older adults in the Greater Washington area? More than you think.

“The answer is everything,” Jeff Dannick, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, told an audience of approximately 50 on Oct. 21.

“It’s about building community; it’s about supporting your neighbor and your friends,” he said. “It’s about giving of yourself to the benefit of the greater good. It’s about recognizing that there is a gap or a need in our community and finding a way to help fill that gap.”

With county and state officials in attendance, the center launched its J Rides program, a network of volunteer drivers that assists senior citizens with transportation needs to the JCC and its events.

The program’s launch coincided with the two-year anniversary of NV Rides, which supports volunteer driving networks in the region. NV Rides is administered by the Jewish Council on Aging and the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and receives support from Fairfax County and the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

NV Rides assists volunteer networks by providing internet-based ride-scheduling software, by financing background checks for volunteers and by helping with marketing and recruitment efforts.

“One of the most difficult things for an older person to cope with is the loss, or potential loss, of one’s ability to drive,” Penny Gross, of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, told the audience. “It takes your independence, your social connections and sometimes your sense of self-worth and interest in the world around you,”

The need for social services for older adults is increasing in Fairfax County, where the senior population has grown steadily for more than a decade. In 2000, the percentage of adults age 65 and older in Fairfax County was 7.09 percent. That number rose to 11.5 by 2015. It is estimated that by 2025, 15 percent of Fairfax’s population will be seniors, according to Fairfax County’s 2016 human services needs assessment.

“Either you find transportation that is economical or you don’t get to see the doctor. You find transportation to a food pantry or you don’t get economical food,” said Jim Mueller, a volunteer driver for the Shepherd’s Center of Western Fairfax County, which focuses on empowering and assisting senior citizens and is assisted by NV Rides. “Those are things we can’t just let pass.”

While NV Rides focuses on necessities such as medical appointments and food shopping, J Rides will also offer transportation to social activities, including those at the center.

Virginia Delegate Marcus Simon (D-District 53) told the audience that his family could have used such a service. When his father-in-law suffered a stroke 10 years ago, it effectively stopped him from driving.

With Simon’s mother-in-law working long shifts as a nurse, “it was always a struggle for [my in-laws] to find ways to keep him connected to the community,” he said.

Simon added that his family was well connected in their neighborhood, which let them rely on friends. But not everyone has that advantage, he said, and some people put pride before logistics.

“[Some people] have been self-reliant their whole lives; they don’t like to ask for help,” he said. “Having a program in place that provides a system for people to sign up and get rides when they need them is nonjudgmental and allows them to participate. {That] is really important.”
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