When a van is so much more than a vehicle

Those of you who have been following along with the journey of On the Road Collaborative for the past couple of years know the challenges that we have faced regarding transportation. Transportation infrastructure is an issue that concerns many across the Shenandoah Valley. The topic has been the focus of efforts of many institutions, including our local Chamber of Commerce, Valley Interfaith Action, and others. Local cities and school divisions are struggling to hire and retain bus drivers, making it difficult to get youth to and from school in a timely manner. That’s not to mention the limits this puts on after school activities and programs.

At On the Road, we understand how important being able to provide transportation is for our youth and their families. We’ve seen firsthand how that ride home can be the difference between having access to our programs or not.

In 2022, bus drivers shortages in the City of Harrisonburg, who had been provided transportation as a paid service the prior 7 years, forced us to develop our own “Department of Transportation”. Without city school buses providing trips home for youth, we knew we had to respond immediately to continue to deliver on our commitment of access to hands-on learning and career exploration opportunities.

Let’s just say, it was an extremely challenging task, and wouldn’t have been possible without the overwhelming support of the local community, our board of directors, and countless volunteers. Through the investment of cash reserves, Sentara Health grant funding, and a generous local business in-kind donation, we acquired three 12-passenger vans in order to continue providing rides home for our youth. A dozen gracious volunteers began to sign up to drive one of these vans one day per week. Over the course of 2022, we slowly but surely developed a system for getting youth to field trips, job shadowing, and home safely with our humble network of vans and drivers.

As pleased as we were with this result, our youth still faced a challenge. Our vans could only provide rides to one middle school per day, and for 50% of our youth, that meant not being able to participate in On the Road unless it was their day to ride in a van. As an organization, we knew that we needed to continue to grow our transportation capacity to minimize this barrier.

We’re so pleased to announce that thanks to continued funding and support from Sentara Health, we recently acquired a fourth van to support these transportation efforts. We feel incredibly blessed by Sentara’s shared commitment to equity and access for youth in our community, and that they saw the merit of funding the purchase of a vehicle.

Volunteers in front of van

Let me tell you, this van went straight to work! The day it rolled off the lot it immediately rolled over to Thomas Harrison Middle School, picking up 10 youth for a local Career Enrichment field trip.

For us, and especially for our youth, a van is so much more than just a vehicle. It represents opportunity, a chance to go somewhere new, to see a different part of their community, and to grow through experiences. This van in particular is such an amazing gift because it represents a unique investment in our youth by a faithful community partner, Sentara Health.

Selfie of students and teachers in van

Coordinating our own department of transportation is not easy but we’re thankful for what we can do in the short term,and we continue to advocate for school bus transportation as the best long term solution. As you can imagine, taking care of four vehicles to ensure they are safe and road ready requires significant financial resources: regular and special maintenance, gas, drivers, etc.; in the amount of $10,000 annually.

Would you consider making a monthly recurring donation in the amount of $10, $25 or $50 to keep these vehicles in running order, and ready to transport our youth home from the program each day?

You can easily set up your gift through this link, which will ensure that more youth in our community have access to quality after school programming.