Se­nior Wheels As­so­ci­a­tion at­tracts op­po­sites

South Shore Breaker - - Front Page - PETER SIMP­SON pe­ter_simp­[email protected]­

Given the on­go­ing de­bate on the mer­its and risks of off­shore drilling, what could an off­shore oil in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive and a life­long en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist pos­si­bly have in com­mon?

Both these ac­com­plished gen­tle­men are now re­tired and serve as vol­un­teer driv­ers for Bridge­wa­ter’s Se­nior Wheels bus, a ser­vice that is in­valu­able to hun­dreds of se­niors and dis­abled in­di­vid­u­als.

Ac­cord­ing to the Se­nior Wheels As­so­ci­a­tion’s mis­sion state­ment, the group was es­tab­lished “to pro­vide a free bus ser­vice for se­niors and phys­i­cally dis­abled mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, thereby help­ing to al­le­vi­ate iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness, as well as en­hanc­ing in­de­pen­dence and qual­ity of life.”

Since Se­nior Wheels ac­quired its first bus in 1992, more than 200,000 pas­sen­gers over the age of 60 and dis­abled per­sons of any age have been trans­ported to and from var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in the town of Bridge­wa­ter and neigh­bour­hoods lo­cated within a seven- kilo­me­tre ra­dius out­side town.

When Mike Ma­son re­tired two years ago from his busy job man- ag­ing a com­pany that pro­vides he­li­copters to ferry per­son­nel and equip­ment to off­shore oil rigs all over the world, he had lots of time on his hands. A chat with a cou­ple guys led him to Se­nior Wheels, where he trained as a driver.

“Be­ing a driver gives me an op­por­tu­nity to meet new peo­ple, and it is only four hours of my time once a week,” said Ma­son, who lives in Con­quer­all Bank.

“I get the sat­is­fac­tion of help­ing peo­ple who need trans­porta­tion to places such as the hos­pi­tal, doc­tor’s of­fice or shop­ping malls and they are friendly and thank­ful for the ser­vice we pro­vide. The other driv­ers and I feel we all get back much more than we put in. It’s a good feel­ing,” he said.

Prior to his re­tire­ment in

2010, Harry Beach was an en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist who worked with Parks Canada as a park ecol­o­gist, con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist, en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­viser and man­ager of nat­u­ral re­source con­ser­va­tion. He also did en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment work for En­vi­ron­ment Canada.

Beach now finds a dif­fer­ent form of ful­fil­ment in his new role as a driver for Se­nior Wheels.

“I wanted to make a con­tri­bu­tion to our com­mu­nity, some­thing that didn’t in­volve meet­ings. I was

pleas­antly sur­prised at how much it gave me an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with a de­mo­graphic with which I didn’t have a lot of con­tact,” said Beach, a Heb­bville res­i­dent.

“Many of the peo­ple (who ride on the bus) are at an age where they have lost their driv­ers li­cences and don’t have trans­porta­tion. You get an in­sight into where we are all go­ing to be at some point. I even had on my bus a 100-year-old gen­tle­man who had re­cently stopped driv­ing,” he said.

Beach said driv­ing for Se­nior Wheels has helped him, an able­bod­ied per­son, to bet­ter un­der- stand the mo­bil­ity is­sues ex­pe­ri­enced by many se­niors.

“For some peo­ple, get­ting around is a ma­jor chal­lenge, even nav­i­gat­ing the few steps onto the bus. It’s eye open­ing. They are re­ally nice, pa­tient and cheer­ful peo­ple who are al­ways happy to have a ride. Driv­ing them has been a good ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” said Beach.

Ini­tially, re­quests for pas­sen­ger pickup were han­dled by Se­nior Wheels mem­bers in their homes, and per­sonal ve­hi­cles were used to take se­niors to ap­point­ments. To­day, re­quests for pickup are man­aged by Sco­tia Busi­ness Cen­tre and se­niors travel in a nine-pas­sen­ger, wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble bus.

The Se­niors Wheels As­so­ci­a­tion is gov­erned by a 13-mem­ber board of di­rec­tors. Melba Lantz of Crouses Set­tle­ment is a long-time mem­ber and cur­rent pres­i­dent.

“Our driv­ers and di­rec­tors are ded­i­cated vol­un­teers who care deeply for the wel­fare of our se­nior and dis­abled cit­i­zens who have no other means of trans­porta­tion for their day-to-day needs,” said Lantz.

There are 18 driv­ers on the ros­ter, in­clud­ing two women, but more driv­ers are needed to meet a grow­ing de­mand for ser­vice, es­pe­cially through the up­com­ing win­ter months when some vol­un­teers and their spouses head south to warmer climes.

Norma Cut­ler, chair of driver train­ing for Se­nior Wheels, said men and women who would like to vol­un­teer as driv­ers must fill out an ap­pli­ca­tion form and con­sent to a po­lice back­ground check. They must sub­mit a clean driver ab­stract and ei­ther have or are will­ing to take ba­sic first aid and CPR train­ing (Se­nior Wheels picks up the tab for train­ing). A driv­ers’ hand­book is also pro­vided.

“Our driv­ers are won­der­ful. They even vol­un­teer over Christ­mas, driv­ing nurs­ing home res­i­dents to see the Christ­mas lights, a kind ges­ture that’s above and be­yond their nor­mal du­ties,” said Cut­ler.

To learn more about vol­un­teer­ing as a driver, call Cut­ler at 902-543-5809. For pas­sen­ger pickup, call 902-543-2255. Se­nior Wheels op­er­ates 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mon­day through Satur­day.

Peter Simp­son

Re­tirees Mike Ma­son (left) and Harry Beach are vol­un­teer Se­nior Wheels bus driv­ers. Be­fore they re­tired, Ma­son was an ex­ec­u­tive work­ing with the in­ter­na­tional off­shore oil in­dus­try, while Beach was an en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist with Parks Canada and En­vi­ron­ment Canada.

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