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Virginia

Your Neighbors Could Use Your Help

Do you have a car and a few hours? Volunteers deliver meals, drive people to medical or social appointments

Joe Golding, 65, of Roanoke County, drives every Wednesday for the Local Office on Aging's Meals on Wheels program. His route usually takes 90 minutes to two hours to complete.

"I know every one of them," he said of the clients who receive the meals. "While I'm there, I do things for them. I carry their garbage [cans] in and out, get their mail — anything that needs doing."

Golding brings his granddaughters when they're out of school. "They enjoy it, and the older people enjoy seeing them and getting a hug."

In addition to delivering meals, Roanoke volunteers provide rides to the grocery, Social Security Administration and social service offices.

Often the volunteer is "the only person the client sees all day," said Gerald Patesel, PAA director of community services. "Our clients and volunteers bond and in many instances the volunteers want to drive that client every time."

Flexible commitments

Drivers don't have to make a permanent commitment. Some PAA drivers head south for the winter and resume volunteering when they return, Patesel said. Generally, volunteers drive every week, every other week or once a month.

When the call comes, "You can say yes, and you can say no," Yakshe said.

In Fredericksburg, volunteer drivers for the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging (RAAA) provide rides to medical appointments and take people shopping and to social events.

Most agencies do not ask volunteer drivers to transport people who use wheelchairs; staff-driven vans handle those assignments.

"Transporting people in our vans is very expensive," said Jim Schaefer, RAAA executive director. "With a volunteer driver program, we can get the ambulatory people into private cars and transport more people for less money."

Patesel said, "Any amount of volunteer help would go a long way" in helping to keep older people in their own homes longer.  "A day a month would make a difference to somebody."

Yakshe, who drives for the PAA in the Newport News-Hampton area of Virginia, said one of her favorite parts of the experience is the passengers' reminiscences.

Her favorite: A World War II war bride from England coming to America on an ocean liner asked fellow passengers to "knock me up in the morning" so she could see New York City at sunrise — not realizing the British expression for "wake me up" had an entirely different meaning in the United States.

Virginia offers free liability insurance coverage for volunteer drivers for qualified nonprofit groups, such as AAAs. To volunteer with an AAA, email vaaarp@aarp.org.

You may also like: Why one man volunteers.

Karen Haywood Queen is a writer living in Williamsburg, Va.

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