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D.C.-area organizations expected to receive about $6.6 million in grants to improve mobility options for seniors, the disabled

Federal dollars are used to purchase vehicles, fund training that helps individuals move around the D.C. region

A train arrives at D.C.'s Metro Center station in April. Several groups in the D.C. area recently won grants to help seniors and the disabled navigate the region. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board has approved about $6.6 million in grants to help organizations that offer programs for seniors and people with disabilities to move independently throughout the region.

The grants, provided under the Federal Transit Administration’s Enhanced Mobility program, will go to 21 organizations, including Capitol Hill Village, New Horizons Supported Services in Prince George’s County, and the Arc of Northern Virginia.

The federal dollars, combined with local funding, mean the groups will receive about $9 million. The awards must still be approved by the FTA, but the hope is that the organizations will begin receiving the money next year, said Lynn Winchell-Mendy, a transportation planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, of which the Transportation Planning Board is a part.

“The grants allow agencies in the communities who know the need and have that local connection to offer services,” Winchell-Mendy said. “It expands the options that are available to people.”

Residents in the D.C. region have access to a variety of transportation options, but for those who are older or disabled, learning to navigate various systems can be a daunting prospect, Winchell-Mendy said.

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The grants fund several programs, including traditional ones that provide transportation and others that teach these populations to navigate the region’s rail and bus systems. In recent years, as new transportation options have come along, organizations have revamped their training to offer lessons on the region’s scooter, bike and ride-sharing systems. This latest round of grants also will allow 11 projects to purchase 53 wheelchair-accessible vans to transport residents to jobs, medical appointments and other locations.

“In our region, [organizations] are doing some pretty creative, interesting things,” said Winchell-Mendy. “They are meeting a great need.”

Ellen Hall, director of marketing and development at New Horizons, said the organization, which offers services to developmentally disabled adults, was thrilled to get a grant.

She said a portion of the $313,000 the group is expected to receive will allow it to replace two 2014 passenger vans that, in seven years, have logged more than 180,000 miles by transporting the nonprofit’s clients, who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, to job sites, training and classes around the D.C. region.

Capitol Hill Village, which offers services and support for senior citizens who want to stay in their homes, is expected to receive a $675,000 grant. The group is the largest of its type in a region that is home to more than a dozen such organizations, according to Judy Berman, Capitol Hill Village’s executive director. The funding that Berman’s group receives will be used to train members and volunteers.

“We know that transportation is key to maintaining independence, so our program is designed to address all kind of mobility,” Berman said. “When older adults have to or choose to give up driving, for many, that’s a really significant moment in their lives. We do our best to make sure they know all their transportation options, including walking and biking. We also teach them how to use ride-share apps.”

The Arc of Northern Virginia, which is expected to receive $866,000, will use the money for TravelMate, a software program that uses tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices to help individuals with intellectual disabilities navigate the region’s transportation systems independently, said Rikki Epstein, the group’s executive director. The Arc of Northern Virginia also will work with partners at other organizations to train staff members and clients to use the program.

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Since 2014, 92 projects across the region have received more than $34 million through the grant program. The grants are competitive and are chosen by a committee chaired by Canek Aguirre (D), a member of the Alexandria City Council and a TPB member. Other committee members include experts in aging, disability, transit and human services.

“As a District resident, I’m glad to see D.C. take advantage of the funding to help seniors and residents with mobility challenges get around. It’s an easy call to me,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is also the TPB chair, in a news release that announced approval of the grants. “… We are thrilled to be able to allocate this much needed assistance, and look forward to seeing how these projects help remove barriers to transportation and opportunity in the region.”