We often read and hear about the daily pressures and obstacles faced by an aging Rappahannock community, with many of our seniors described as lonely if not completely isolated in an extremely rural county.
An American Community Survey estimates that 115 Rappahannock households — about 259 residents — don’t have access to an automobile.
Take “Charles” who lives with another needy person in the basement of a cinderblock house in Rappahannock. He has diabetes and requires regular treatments in Warrenton. Charles has no car.
Another county resident, “Mary,” has lived alone since her husband died. Her daughter visits a few times a month, but Mary is otherwise socially isolated. She would like to go shopping more often.
“Sam” lives in the basement of a house belonging to his landlord, who is gone for months at a time. Sam sadly is blind and needs transportation to his regular treatments in Manassas.
These people are all real. They are your Rappahannock neighbors.
The situation they face on a daily basis is common: socially and physically isolated, elderly, frail, many of them low income, and disabled. Some of those in need aren’t even elderly, rather physically challenged people of all ages who require transportation to either medical or other appointments.
Consider for a moment how difficult and time-consuming it can be for even a healthy young or middle-aged person living in Rappahannock County to drive in their own vehicle to Warrenton, Front Royal or Culpeper, whether it’s for groceries or other needs. Imagine, at the same time, the burden on an elderly person who has no family or means of transportation.
Fortunately there are several local groups that provide rides (and companionship for however brief period of time) for people like Charles, Mary, and Sam, including the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board (RRCSB), RappatHome, Road to Recovery, VolTran, and our regional American Cancer Society. The Senior Center also provides van service to and from the center, Monday through Thursday, for persons 60 and older.
However, these groups had never been coordinated. Until now.
A One-Call Center has been established under the Foothills Area Mobility System (FAMS). The center serves five counties, including Rappahannock. Mary Honeycutt, Hallie Holland, and Wendy Oien answer the phone from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Please write down the number: 540-829-5300.
Bottom line: the center works with the above volunteer transportation programs to help get the needy where they need to go. Please remember when calling that the more advanced notice you can give the more likely transportation may be arranged. The service is free. Donations are encouraged. (See fams.org for more information, especially fams.org/publications-links/).
That said, new volunteer drivers are always welcome. If you can drive even once a month, call 540-829- 5300, tell them how often you will drive, how far, and what type of trip you prefer. They will match you up with one or more of the groups that serve Rappahannock County.
People reading this article — yes, I’m talking about you — probably have a car. You don’t need a ride. But you might know somebody who does.
And please keep in mind other elderly residents of this county who might not need rides to medical appointments. I’m referring to the socially isolated people who are living alone. Social isolation can lead to depression and more severe medical and mental issues. So please check on your neighbor or perhaps even knock on the door of an elderly person’s house you pass by every day.
Telling them about FAMS is no guarantee they will use the service. Isolated people may feel they don’t deserve the service, or are reluctant to try something new. When I asked one of my riders if she would like to go shopping, she said, “Yes, but if I don’t know the driver I’m not getting in the car.”
Coaxing an isolated person to get out of their house requires an invitation from somebody they trust. That person, that much-needed trusted friend, that driver could be you.
Editor’s note: Hal Hunter has worn many hats during in his lifetime. Close to two years ago he founded RappatHome, giving them their name, phone number and website, and then strong-armed his friend into becoming president. He drives for three of the local groups mentioned above. He has personally recruited — and continues to help coordinate — dozens of volunteer drivers. Next Tuesday Hal will be driving the couple in the cinderblock house to the Warrenton Wound Center.