For many seniors, a simple trip to the doctor’s office, bank or grocery store can be difficult and exhausting. Factors like transportation costs, declining vision or mobility, and even worries about slipping on the ice in the winter can come into play. Enter organizations like the River East Council for Seniors, which offers rides for seniors in the North Kildonan, East Kildonan and Elmwood areas of Winnipeg.
Over the past 10 years, the non-profit organization has transported the 55+ crowd across the city, driving them to and from health-related appointments as well as other daily activities. “The rides are primarily medical in nature, but we also give people rides to run errands or just to visit their friends or family,” says Debbie Wolfson, the council’s resource coordinator. “We’ve had several clients who have had a spouse in the hospital, and we’ve provided rides so they can visit.”
Not all of the people using programs like River East Rides for Seniors (RERS) are completely reliant on outside transportation services, but they may still need a hand in certain situations. “We have some people who drive but are not comfortable driving downtown or to an unfamiliar part of the city, and we also have people who take the bus, but they may have to go to a location that’s more difficult to get to or that requires transfers,” explains Wolfson. “Our clients’ children or families are frequently working and are not able to assist them in getting around or to appointments.”
Individuals register for the service ahead of time and are picked up by one of the council’s volunteer drivers, who use their own vehicles to transport the clients. Though there are other transportation services currently operating in Winnipeg, many of them do not provide the same level of companionship as RERS, whose volunteers actually stay with the client until their appointment is over. “It’s just a matter of having someone with them if they are going to an appointment in an unfamiliar area or to a new doctor,” says Wolfson, who has worked with the council for almost 11 years, of the seniors.
Recently retired Clare McKenty is one of the six volunteers who dedicate their time to the program. “It’s a terrific service for the seniors,” says McKenty, who has volunteered for about eight years. “The fact that we drive them and then stay with them, it’s much more convenient. My favourite part of volunteering is talking to the people while driving or waiting with them.”
Wolfson estimates the volunteers provide eight to 10 rides a week, but that number is dependent on the availability of the drivers, which is why clients have to schedule rides in advance. “Sometimes, it’s difficult to find a driver available for a ride,” she explains. And as a testament to the value the seniors place on the service, she adds, “Sometimes in those situations, the client will actually change their appointment time in order to have a driver.”
The cost of the service, which covers the volunteers’ vehicle expenses, is nominal and varies according to the location of the client’s destination. A ride in the surrounding area, for example, costs less than 10 dollars. “People may be surprised at the fact that a service like this is available and at such a minimal cost,” says McKenty.
Because the volunteers use their own vehicles, they are not able to accommodate people in wheelchairs, but they are able to assist those with vision problems or mobility issues. It’s for that reason RERS has proven invaluable to seniors like Marie Farler, a client for the past six or seven years.
“The volunteers are so helpful—they know I have difficulty with the doors when I’m coming out of my block, and they always help me when I’m getting in and out of the car,” says Farler, who usually calls for rides several times a month, depending on the number of appointments she has. “The most important thing is that the volunteers wait for me while I go for an appointment—and it’s so nice to have someone to talk to.”
Programs like RERS are not available in all parts of the city, but there are other seniors’ organizations with similar transportation options, including the Boni-Vital Council for Seniors, the Broadway Seniors Resource Council, the Keewatin/Inkster Neighbourhood Resource Council for Seniors, the St. James/Assiniboia Seniors Centre and the Transcona Council for Seniors. According to Wolfson, many rural areas also offer volunteer-based transportation services.
Wolfson says she is always on the lookout for more drivers so she can continue to provide the same level of care to her clients, as well as spread the word to potential clients that programs like RERS exist. “I think there are a lot of people who don’t even know about the service,” she reveals. “Transportation is so important for older adults, as well as the availability of it, because you can become quite isolated if you can’t get out of the house. It’s really important for us to provide safe, reliable transportation.”
And seniors using the service are extremely grateful for the efforts of the volunteers and of Wolfson, who says her favourite part of her job is interacting with the clients and getting to know them on a personal level over the years.
“I keep telling the volunteers how much I appreciate them,” says Farler, adding that she constantly recommends the program to others. “I’ve never been refused a ride.”
Volunteers are needed for each of the volunteer driving programs offered throughout the city. If you are interested in volunteering please call the Transportation Options Network for Seniors at 668-6299 for more information.