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Drive Happiness a popular resource for Alberta seniors

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NOTE: Drive Happiness services are altered during the COVID-19 crisis. Call 780- 424-5438 or email info@drivehappiness.ca for details.

The volunteers at Drive Happiness do more than give seniors low-cost rides to medical and dental appointments, shopping or to the bank. The non-profit group’s near-100 drivers also act as connectors — letting passengers know about housing, service or social opportunities in the community. It’s a value-added resource that costs seniors just $10 a ride.

“Our mandate is to offer reliable and safe transportation while reducing social isolation and maintaining mobility and well-being for the city’s senior population,” said Liza Bouchard, executive director for Drive Happiness. “We’re connected with the city’s senior residences, and through word-of-mouth and other agencies. Some 1,500 seniors use our service each year. That population is growing faster than we can keep up with, so demand is high and just keeps growing.”

Screened volunteer drivers age 20-70 accompany seniors to appointments, particularly when there are mobility or dementia issues, or visual/hearing impairments. After applying to be part of the Senior Assisted Transportation Program, eligible 65-plus residents (who must have sufficient mobility to get in and out of a vehicle) can book a $10 transport as often as needed. The fee (most of which goes toward gas costs for the volunteer drivers) covers 40 kilometres or 90 minutes of assistance.

“Part of our work is to inform seniors of other services that may be in their area. Many seniors aren’t computer savvy, so we produce a quarterly newsletter that lets them know about community happenings too,” added Bouchard. “But it’s valuable to our volunteer drivers too, many of whom are retirees, widows and widowers. They say they feel joy with the work and they want to sustain the program so it’ll be there for them when they need it.”

Retired educator Sid Shugarman, 72, has been a volunteer driver with Drive Happiness for nearly a year. He said the job is a wonderful way to keep him away from Netflix, while also offering a chance to connect with fellow seniors and learn something too.

“It’s so well organized for riders and drivers, with online bookings and as much or little work as I want to take on. The free workshops in mental health first aid, dementia and visual impairment have been a great learning experience too,” said Shugarman, adding that he often fits a ride in between coffee and Scrabble meetups with friends. “I get thanked many times a day, and that makes it worthwhile to do what I do. This is such a valuable service that must continue and grow.”

"You get to know people and make real connections," he added. "We need more drivers, without a doubt. I’m adamant that these services continue.”

Led by a volunteer board, Bouchard said the organization aims to be a good steward in the community, to do its work with integrity and accountability and to empower seniors to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Volunteer drivers must have a reliable vehicle and are reimbursed for gas costs.

Drive Happiness offers service in Edmonton and surrounds, but Bouchard says a lack of assisted transportation throughout the province means expansion is a real possibility. “We get calls from all over Alberta. There’s huge demand but limited supply. Volunteer drivers are always needed."

For more information, see drivehappiness.ca