On my 50th birthday, I decided to do something different. I didn’t go sky-diving, jet off to Bali or dance until the wee hours of the morning. Instead, I gave a lovely woman a much-needed lift to her dentist and back. I don’t for one second regret it.
Her name is Ute. I didn’t know her before my birthday, but I knew her name and that she needed a volunteer driver to take her from McLean to Alexandria and back again on the morning of April 17th. By the time we were done with our morning’s adventure, she said to me, “I feel like I’ve known you for a very long time.”
It all started with my new job – I recently became the Media and Communications Coordinator for NV Rides, a nonprofit run out of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. NV Rides supports a network of community-based groups that connect volunteer drivers with adults in need of rides. NV Rides already has 13 partner organizations, all needing more volunteer drivers to meet the needs of the Northern Virginia community. We plan to partner with additional organizations, so that even more individuals in need of rides can get to where they need to go, especially their important medical appointments.
Here are some of the initial questions I had when I started working: What kind of person can be a volunteer driver? What does the experience feel like? How much time does it take? And mostly, is it worth my time to volunteer?
The first thing I did was contact the Shepherd’s Center of McLean-Arlington-Falls Church (SCMAFC), one of NV Rides’ partner organizations and a volunteer-based interfaith organization dedicated to assisting older adults in maintaining an independent lifestyle. Tom Eversole, the center’s coordinator, said he always meets with volunteer drivers and riders in person first, so I drove to his house to talk with him. In addition, NV Rides had already conducted background checks on me. I knew right away that SCMAFC was serious about ensuring that volunteer drivers were vetted and safe.
During our conversation, Tom carefully went over driver procedures and guidelines. He also showed me how to use the RideScheduler software, which works seamlessly to connect volunteers with individuals in need of rides. I received a volunteer handbook, and then I was ready to roll.
The next step was to pick a time to volunteer based upon my availability, which, like many of us, is fairly limited. I knew that I had free time on my birthday, and so I matched myself with Ute. I like that I was not making a grand commitment of my time. In the future, I can pick and choose when and if I wanted to volunteer each week.
I called Ute and told her I would be picking her up on Wednesday morning. We discussed the best time for me to arrive to ensure that she got to her appointment on time. To prepare, I cleaned out my car a little. I programmed her address and her dentist’s address into my GPS. I made sure I had a travel mug of coffee and a good book to read. And that’s all I did to get ready for my first volunteer ride.
When I got near Ute’s apartment, I called her as she had requested. The truth is, my GPS led me a bit astray, and I landed a few streets away from her, unable to navigate through a gated community to get to her place. Ute calmly gave me alternative directions, and I soon arrived at her place. We left her apartment on time.
During the drive to the dentist, our conversation flowed easily. We talked about food preferences and how Northern Virginia has changed over the years. She told me about her various doctors’ appointments too.
Because there was a maze of construction around her doctor’s office, I didn’t want to just drop Ute off. I was concerned she would have difficulty navigating a variety of detours outside the building, so I just parked, and we walked through the construction area together. While Ute had her appointment, I read a book and texted my friends in a waiting room with a peaceful water motif.
On our return trip, I didn’t get lost, although we laughed about the roundabout way the GPS led us back to her home. I told her that the GPS is kind of pushy and sometimes wrong, but that I never argue with her. We also talked about family and trips abroad. Ute is originally from Germany, and I was fascinated by the path that lead her to this country. She told me about her relatives in Pennsylvania and a recent visit she had with them.
By about 12:30 p.m., I had Ute back home. She gave me a handshake before and after the trip because, “Germans shake hands.”
Ute said to me, “this was a very nice day.” I got it – this was more than just a trip to the dentist for us. It was a chance for us to connect with each other.