W&L Students Form Blue Ridge Mile Clinic The clinic is a Lexington-based program run by W&L students that partners with Virginia's Drive to Work initiative to help low-income or previously incarcerated individuals gain or restore their driving privileges.
“Aspects of life that we take for granted, like getting your driver’s license, passport or tax documents, are challenging to do if you’re unfamiliar with the process and don’t have someone to help.”
~ Ryan Zimmerman ’22
Obtaining a Virginia driver’s license is not always an easy right to earn. When that privilege has been lost because of a violation or a failure to update the license, getting the permit back in the Commonwealth of Virginia can be extremely challenging.
Buena Vista District Court Judge Robin Mayer was shocked by the number of community members coming through her courtroom without a driver’s license, so she reached out to Fran Elrod, associate director of Washington and Lee University’s Shepherd Program, about working with W&L students to address the issue. The students have subsequently formed the Blue Ridge Mile Clinic (BRM) to provide support to local residents.
The Blue Ridge Mile Clinic is a Lexington-based program that partners with Virginia’s Drive to Work initiative to help low-income or previously incarcerated individuals gain or restore their driving privileges. The clinic combines several ongoing efforts to address licensing problems around Rockbridge County.
Through the partnership with Drive to Work, students involved in the clinic will be trained to understand the complex laws about licensing and help individuals fill out the necessary forms to obtain or reinstate their driver’s license. The clinic will serve formerly incarcerated individuals and anyone else seeking to acquire their license.
“Many of the barriers people face when re-entering society after incarceration are not legal matters that require a professional degree to understand,” said Ryan Zimmerman ’22, a student leader in the clinic. “Aspects of life that we take for granted, like getting your driver’s license, passport or tax documents, are challenging to do if you’re unfamiliar with the process and don’t have someone to help.”
Elrod is teaching a one-credit Winter Term course focusing on understanding the laws pertinent to the clinic and engaging in direct client service. Members of the organization will learn about licensing and advocacy, and engage with speakers to gain a more holistic understanding of the issue.
“Initially, our clients will be referred to us by the judge,” said Elrod. “They will be people who are not represented by an attorney and are in court because they were arrested for not having a driver’s license. We will also pay attention to trends in rural areas like ours to understand what keeps people from getting their licenses. Is it because they haven’t finished high school? Are there literacy challenges? Is there a lack of financial resources? These are some of the topics we’ll try to understand better.”
Zimmerman encourages students to be on the lookout for recruitment information.
“We’ll be reaching out and advertising for general membership throughout Winter Term,” Zimmerman said. “People who are interested in taking part in the clinic will be able to go through an application process and training to start working in the court.”
To Zimmerman, acquiring a driver’s license is more than getting access to transportation. It opens the doors to much broader personal and professional prospects.
“I’m excited to start helping people obtain their driver’s license because it’s our country’s universally accepted form of personal identification, as well as a crucial requirement to legally operate a motor vehicle. In simple terms, a license is a significant ingredient for a person’s productivity and success,” he said. “In the long run, though, I am excited to see where this organization can go and the many ways in which we can make an impact, helping the most amount of people possible while providing college students eye-opening and educational experiences.”