New leader sought for Fairfax County volunteer driver network

A driver and rider participating in NV Rides’ free transportation program (courtesy NV Rides)

A program that connects elderly people in Northern Virginia with volunteer drivers needs a new manager.

NV Rides manager Jennifer Kanarek left her position in mid-July, Pozez Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Northern Virginia Executive Director Jeff Dannick said yesterday (Monday).

“We started this program a little over 7 years ago, and Jennifer was our first manager,” Dannick said, crediting Kanarek for helping build the program. “The community owes a great debt to Jennifer for her years of service.”

Housed at the Pozez JCC in Fairfax, NV Rides is a network of volunteer driver programs that formed in 2014 after a Fairfax County survey identified access to safe and reliable transportation as a top concern among the county’s older residents, a population that is expected to continue growing over the next two decades.

In its 2020 demographic report, the county projects that people 65 and older will constitute its largest age group by 2025, eventually making up 17.5% of the total population in 2040.

“I have learned so much over the last seven years and knowing the impact that the NV Rides program has had on vulnerable adults in our community is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” Kanarek said in a statement. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with our community partners, stakeholders, and my staff in building, developing, and growing this crucial program.”

Kanarek announced that she was stepping down from her position with NV Rides last week, saying on her LinkedIn page that the decision comes with “mixed emotions.”

“I am proud of all I and my partners have accomplished, and I have made the decision to pursue other opportunities,” she wrote.

NV Rides consists of 15 partner organizations, ranging from local Shepherd’s Centers and religious organizations to Reston Community Center’s RCC Rides service, which has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the NV Rides website, the network has provided close to 40,000 rides since it began.

“They’re not taxi drivers. They’re coming to help you get to your appointment. They’re coming to help you shop for groceries. So, it’s really a companionship piece,” Kanarek said in a July video about the program, noting that while many elderly people can use ride-hailing apps such as Lyft or Uber, there can be varying levels of trust with a paid stranger versus a volunteer.

According to Kanarek, NV Rides has looked to recruit younger drivers because the average driver has been around 67 years old, and they may not want to return when the pandemic subsides.

After seeing ridership decline when Virginia went under a stay-at-home order in the spring of 2020, Dannick says NV Rides has now returned to “around pre-COVID levels” for volunteer drivers.

In June, NV Rides partnered with the Reston-based Dulles Airport Transportation Association on an outreach effort to provide transportation to medical appointments for veterans in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties.

The Pozez JCC is currently advertising for a long-term successor to Kanarek. The job posting lists the position’s annual salary as $45,000 to $55,000.

Meanwhile, the program’s interim manager is Tom Eversole, a retired naval officer who serves on the NV Rides Advisory Council.

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