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Reaching Out to the Hispanic Community

Guest Blogger—Sarah McGowan, Director of Programs and Mobility for All, Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA). Learn more about DATA’s bilingual volunteer recruitment and outreach project at or contact her at

Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA) is a Reston, Virginia-based nonprofit with a long history of conceiving and implementing niche transportation projects. It attributes its impact to creating and promoting sustainable and sensible transportation options by working with a wide range of stakeholders. Securing reliable and affordable transportation can be challenging for older adults and people with disabilities, but Northern Virginia is an area rich in programs and support. Available programs include rides to critical medical appointments for dialysis and chemo treatment, subsidized and free rides, and individualized instruction on using public transportation. Still, gaps exist.

Through extensive conversations with project partners, including NV Rides and Fairfax County’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, DATA learned that many eligible individuals in the local Hispanic community are not taking full advantage of available travel assistance opportunities. Digging a little deeper into why, DATA learned that for those who speak English as a second language, or who speak no English at all, the language barrier makes it difficult to access resources. Other hurdles are unfamiliarity with how regional transit systems work, eligibility questions, and awareness of available programs.

Armed with this better understanding of the Hispanic community’s transportation challenges, DATA added Hispanic-specific initiatives to its grant proposal to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) 5310 Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program. DATA’s application was approved, and it now works closely with several community partners to help bridge transportation service gaps.

Support Provided to the Hispanic Community

Bilingual Driver Recruitment—DATA recruits bilingual volunteer drivers through its Mobility NetWorks! program. Targeted outreach includes Hispanic-centric events and organizations and an advertising campaign in El Tiempo Latino, the largest Spanish-language weekly newspaper in Northern Virginia. Bilingual volunteers are then referred to NV Rides’ network where they become part of the solution.

DATA exhibits its programs to older adults in the Hispanic community.

 NV Rides works with an extensive network of local service organizations providing no-cost rides to older adults.  Rides are provided by volunteers who use their own vehicles to offer “the gift of a lift.”  With reliable rides to doctor appointments, the grocery store, and other essential destinations, the service has proven to be life-changing for many individuals attempting to age in place. However, many potential riders have been reluctant to take advantage of this program because they are self-conscious about their limited English skills.

“Having volunteer drivers who speak Spanish allows us to better help older adults with English-language challenges,” says Emily Braley, NV Rides Manager. “They not only help us expand our services, but also because going to medical appointments is often stressful, they remove uncomfortable language barriers.”

Promoting Existing Programs to Spanish-Speaking CommunitiesA 2016 report from the National Hispanic Council on Aging found, “Hispanic older adults struggle to access services for housing, food and health programs due to linguistic and cultural gaps with service providers and difficulty navigating enrollment procedures.” With this in mind, DATA works closely with Fairfax County in Northern Virginia to tailor promotion to the Hispanic community for two transportation programs spearheaded by the Fairfax County’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services:

  • Transportation Options, Program & Services (TOPS) provides subsidized transportation funds on an easy-to-use debit card for older adults, younger adults with disabilities, and those with limited income.
  • Travel Training offers no-cost travel training in English and Spanish to older adults and younger adults with disabilities. This travel training supports independence by enhancing awareness of, and access to, public transportation options.

DATA’s bilingual staff translate during travel training and promote travel programs in person at Hispanic events, festivals, and Spanish religious services. Bilingual staff also distribute information on the programs to nonprofits specifically serving the Hispanic community.

“While it’s helpful to distribute Spanish-language printed information about these programs within the Hispanic community, there’s no substitute for attending these events in person,” says DATA Program Outreach Manager, Karla Nativi. “When I’m there, I can not only better explain the program, but I can also help address any concerns or reluctance including questions like, ’How do I apply?’ or ‘Do I need to be a citizen?’ which I gladly assure them they do not. My being able to offer an immediate and reassuring answer to those questions has made a significant difference as to whether they’re willing to try the program.”

What’s Next? Maximizing Public-Private Partnerships

DATA was founded more than 30 years ago as a business association but has grown into an organization that also delivers innovative transportation solutions to underserved communities in Northern Virginia. It considers transportation a basic civil right and is committed to finding creative partners and approaches to level the playing field for those who need a little extra help.

DATA is currently in discussion with a trusted community business partner to introduce its bilingual volunteer driver program to its employees who also speak Spanish. As USAging estimates that by 2050 one in five older adults will be Hispanic, so DATA hopes to scale the model of public-private partnerships to enlist additional private sector partners to help serve the growing Hispanic population.

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