Imagine. You finally get that eye appointment in Calgary you’ve been waiting for since your referral three months ago. Problem? Not being able to see afterwards to get yourself home. And any transportation that you may currently use is unavailable.
It’s not a problem anymore.
In 2021, Drive Happiness and Volunteer Airdrie teamed together to provide a low-cost, accessible volunteer driver service for the City of Airdrie. The registered not-for-profit assists seniors independently living in their own homes.
The Drive Happiness program has provided transportation since 2002, covering the province north to Slave Lake, south to Lethbridge, west to Jasper and east to Lloydminster. Currently in Airdrie the program serves 50 clients with a fleet of 15 volunteer drivers.
“And we’re always looking for more,” adds Leon Cygman, Volunteer Airdrie vice chair and driver.
Drivers choose their own hours and receive fuel reimbursement.
The program was created specifically for seniors, 65+, on a fixed income with mobility or health issues.
Clients, or riders, purchase tickets for $10 apiece and are provided 90 minutes of driving time or up to a 40-kilometre distance. All riders must be able to enter and exit the vehicle on their own.
Riders must provide at least three days’ notice prior to their trip, and that does not include weekends or holidays.
In 2020, the Drive Happiness program served 6,000 clients and provided almost 16,000 hours of volunteer time, including the drivers who drove up to 133,000 km. The program’s volunteers are also involved in advocacy and administration.
“It’s a wonderful success story, and it’s just so gratifying to be involved in this,” says Cygman, who teaches business at Mount Royal University. “I really enjoy my riders’ liveliness and enthusiasm. I think the best part is just being able to hear their stories. These people have interesting lives and having them share that with me is an honour.”
Riders share similar stories about their positive experience.
Julie Tkachuk has been a resident of Airdrie for 40 years and has been using Drive Happiness since it first arrived in May last year.
“I can’t say enough good things about the service,” she says. “I found it by fluke, just googling Volunteer Airdrie, who suggested it to me. And now I recommend it to my friends.”
Although Tkachuk, who is on her own, is able to tool around Airdrie, she has a standing appointment at the Foothills Hospital once a week, and Drive Happiness just takes away the cost and stress of driving and parking.
“Their rate is so reasonable, and they’re very flexible. I only have to give three days’ notice and it’s no problem. I’m able to e-transfer the money, so everything is very simple.”
Tkachuk, who worked with Scotiabank for 30 years before retiring here, is fortunate to have her daughters and grandchildren in town and says they’re very helpful with anything she needs.
“But my one daughter works, and the other has little ones, so they’re busy too.”
She is most impressed with the drivers.
“They are all so warm and friendly, and are all prompt. We’re never late. I can’t say enough about how helpful they are, really going beyond what’s just expected. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
“Volunteer Airdrie was really excited to be able to offer this program here, and the results have been amazing,” says Cygman, a longtime volunteer who is also a board member with Airdrie Public Library and Marigold Library System. “I hope when more people hear about us, they won’t feel isolated and alone. We really are happy to help.”
For more information, visit volunteer Airdrie.ca