By ASHLYN CAMPBELL for Daily News-Record
Dec 10, 2023
Over 350 members of Valley Interfaith Action took “the next step” in hopes of bringing transportation and childcare to the area Thursday night, with the help of a $50,000 grant from Sentara and two confirmed yes votes from county supervisors.
VIA is a “broad-based, non-partisan, multi-issue” organization made up of faith-based, immigrant, neighborhood and other associations. After holding a listening campaign in 2022, the group has been campaigning to bring door-to-door demand response transit to Rockingham County and affordable childcare with teachers who are paid a living wage.
Thursday night, VIA held an event bringing over 350 community members to advocate for demand response transit and two new affordable childcare centers. Bridgewater Church of the Brethren Pastor Jennifer Scarr said the gathering was to have a conversation to work toward the vision.
Earlier this year, VIA advocated for a transit feasibility study, which was eventually conducted by Rockingham County and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. VIA has been working with Jaunt, a transit operator out of Charlottesville, to bring demand response transit to the area. At the end of November, VIA organized a demonstration with Jaunt.
To bring these services to the area, Rev. Adam Blagg said, the Board of Supervisors must vote to permit Jaunt to operate a demonstration in the area and will have to make a local match to $800,000 in state and federal money with $200,000 in funding.
At Thursday night’s event, Sentara RMH announced it would give a $50,000 grant through Sentara Cares to add to the local match.
“There's a study that we point to often that shows 80 to 90% of any individual's health outcomes … are due to things that are outside of direct medical care,” said Corey Davies of Sentara RMH. “It drives us as a health system to look outside of the four walls of our medical offices and our hospitals and to look to partner organizations like VIA.”
Rockingham County Board of Supervisors Chair Dewey Ritchie also announced that a vote to allow Jaunt to demonstrate in the area would be held on Jan. 10 — and he’d be voting yes. Another board member, Rick Chandler, who VIA members said changed his schedule to be at the event, also announced he would vote yes.
For childcare, child care center director Pamela Houck said VIA identified three potential childcare sites in Elkton and one potential site in Harrisonburg that could open as early as fall 2024. Art Stoltzfus of Community Mennonite Church said VIA found tax credits and underused state and federal funds.
Stoltzfus said VIA’s proposal is a $3.5 million budget amendment that would use less than one-third of the money returned to the state to be utilized for two new affordable childcare sites.
“We’re not asking the state to spend more money,” Stoltzfus said. “We’re asking the state to spend our money better.”
VIA members will meet with Sen. Mark Obenshain and Del. Tony Wilt on Dec. 14 to “discuss how they can help us save our tax dollars for our children.”
Pastor Jennifer Scarr said VIA was in it for the long haul — once the members accomplish their goals in transportation and childcare, they’ll set new goals.
“If we can organize around these two campaigns and make a positive impact for the common good in our valley, then we know we can do it again on something else,” Scarr said. “The more relationships and the more folks we can gather together to make a difference, the more likely it will be that we can make the positive impact we want to make.”