Without the Volunteer Driver Program through Beacon Community Services on the Saanich Peninsula, Elsie Fox might not be able to visit her husband Douglas as much as she’d like.
Fox, 89, is one of the many clients of the Beacon Community Services (BCS) program offered via the SHOAL Centre in Sidney.
Fox started using the service after her husband was moved into the Saanich Peninsula Hospital for long-term care. Fox, being of a certain generation, had never learned to drive and suddenly found her mobility limited.
“I found out about the Volunteer Driver Program when my husband lost his sight,” Fox said. “The hospital is a five to ten minute ride away from where I live and I try to get in to see him there every day.”
However, using taxis or the bus was not always possible, or affordable.
“I don’t drive at all. But I have to be there for my husband’s sake.”
It was at a recreation program she was taking at Panorama Recreation Centre, when a friend told her about the BCS program.
So, she called the SHOAL Centre and spoke with their volunteer services folks. They, in turn, put her in touch with some of their volunteer drivers. She eventually found a like spirit in driver Jenny Jenner, and the pair have been going on rides together ever since.
Jenner has been a program volunteer since 2002. She said she was driving as a volunteer for the B.C. Cancer Society before then and wanted to continue the work. That’s when she, too, found BCS.
Volunteers, Jenner said, must have a clean driving record, undergo a police check and carry additional third party insurance on their vehicle. Volunteers choose when they want to drive and how far.
“I used to go whenever I was needed,” Jenner said, adding as she got older she reduced the number of trips downtown.
She said the program is needed in the community — as are new drivers. It’s supported through grants from local communities and helps keep the service free for clients.
The program does offer a stipend to help cover the fuel costs for the drivers.
“The people we tend to drive probably wouldn’t manage in a taxi or Handy Dart (bus),” she said. “We will take them to an appointment, help them inside and often wait for them. It’s all something you discuss beforehand with the client.”
Jenner added she will often share other resources with her clients, such as the blue books — the Seniors Service Directories.
Once inside the vehicle and on their way, Jenner said drivers and clients get to know each other, talk and share ideas and advice.
Fox and Jenner know each other well, as they have been driving together for a few years.
“Elsie and I have become close, we share things. She’s an amazing woman.”
“She’s such a dear soul,” Fox said of Jenner. “My worries cease when I know she’s driving.”
After hitting it off, Fox now tries to have Jenner drive as often as she needs — making sure to book the rides a week in advance, as the program requires. Advance notice is necessary, added Jenner, as there are often more requests than there are drivers.
“We always need more drivers,” she said.
The BCS Volunteer Driver Program is available to all residents of the Saanich Peninsula who need transportation to medical and other related appointments.
To learn more, or to become a volunteer driver, contact the SHOAL Centre’s volunteer services desk at 250-656-5537.