Senior Wheels Association attracts opposites
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.
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.