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Edmonton non-profit helps seniors catch a ride, stay social

Drive Happiness volunteer and driver.
Drive Happiness volunteer and driver. Evelyn Mansell/Drive Happiness

June Haydak is a woman on the go. In less than two years, she’s logged more than 200 rides with Drive Happiness, an Edmonton non-profit that provides assisted transportation to older adults.

“I’m not staying home very much, am I?” Haydak laughed.

The 85-year-old considers herself a very independent person, but after she stopped driving she needed another option to keep up with her schedule.

“I was always a very independent person and I want to remain that way so I still can have that freedom. I don’t have to ask my family to drive me, so having this service is just wonderful for me,” Haydak said.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton non-profit helps seniors catch a ride, stay social

Elsewhere in Edmonton, volunteer driver Harold Lake has also logged an impressive number of rides: 1,600 since he started three years ago in October.

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“I got involved a year before retiring from full-time work, I knew I would need something to do in retirement,” Lake said.

The organization is now looking for more drivers like Lake, eager to help combat social isolation and help seniors at home or in assisted-living facilities.

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“As the population of Alberta is aging, more and more seniors are needing access to a transportation like ours,” program manager Evelyn Mansell said. “This increase in demand is a struggle to keep up, as we only have so many volunteers.”

Drive Happiness mainly assists lower-income, mobility-challenged seniors who would otherwise struggle to get around and stay independent.

“My mother moved in with my sister and brother-in-law when she was 102. I made a trip every Saturday with Drive Happiness to visit. She passed away in November,” Haydak said.

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I could’ve gone every week. I can’t speak enough about what a wonderful service it is for us seniors.”

Lake, a senior himself, said it’s important to him to give back.

“It’s something I believe we should be doing. A lot of [seniors using the service] can’t get out of the house. We are helping them to enjoy their time,” Lake said.
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Haydak and Lake can both recall a few times that a driver has gone the extra mile for a passenger.

“I remember when I first started, I took a woman shopping. It was supposed to be an hour. She said, ‘You’re going to come in, aren’t you? You have to come in! I’m too small to reach things on the upper shelves,'” laughed Lake.

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Lake said he tagged along for the shopping trip, and has done so on a number of occasions.

“Some of my passengers are blind, so I help them go right into the doctor’s office. I drove a group of immigrant seniors to an English language course,” Lake said. “It’s been fun to talk to my passengers. They seem to want to talk quite a bit.”

Haydak said she’s often seen other seniors heading out to play cards or socialize at senior centres.

“The drivers are just wonderful. I’ve made many friends with staff and drivers. Sometimes a driver will have two of us on the trip and I’ll meet another senior that’s going somewhere,” Haydak said.

Lake said he usually gets to know his passengers quite well and knows if a passenger will need a little bit of extra help.

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“In a lot of cases, when I drive somebody they seem to want me to keep on driving them. Whenever I see their name come up on the schedule, I’ll pick them again. Sometimes they’ll call and ask for me before they even sign up,” Lake said.

“I’ve had some young drivers, too. You just get to meet wonderful friends,” Haydak said. “I have never been refused a ride. That’s really something. Without [Drive Happiness]…well, it would be quite sad.”

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The amount of drivers available to the service is what keeps things running smoothly.

“We can’t continue to do what we do unless we have a consistent volunteer base. It’s the public that keeps us going,” Mansell said.

Lake said he’s also looking to the future when it comes to the volunteer program.

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“Sometime I’m going to need a ride. Maybe by the time I need one, they’ll have autonomous cars,” he laughed.

If you’d like to get involved with Drive Happiness as a rider or volunteer click here.

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