According to Age Friendly Cold Lake (AFCL), one of the ongoing issues facing seniors is transportation. To help address this, the organization has teamed up with Drive Happiness, an Edmonton-based nonprofit.

AFCL received a grant late last year to provide transportation support for seniors in Cold Lake, the M.D. of Bonnyville and the Town of Bonnyville. Under the program, they match volunteer drivers with seniors who need a ride to important appointments, either locally or out of town.

The service is subsidized to make sure it is affordable.

“We started out with that idea and started planning and realized that we could probably use some administrative support in managing this, because it’s for the whole area. It’s potentially a big deal,” said AFCL’s program manager Diane Stonehocker.

AFCL recruits local volunteers for short trips or to drive as far as Edmonton and back. Drive Happiness provides them with the training they need and helps to match seniors with drivers.

For the longer hauls, the AFCL rents a vehicle and pays for fuel so drivers are not out-of-pocket—the only cost to them is their time. For local trips, drivers are compensated $8 per ride.

Prospective volunteers need a clean driving abstract and a vulnerable sector check. They are vetted for their suitability to work with older people.

The longer runs are primarily for medical appointments, while local trips can be for necessary errands like hair appointments or grocery shopping. Stonehocker stresses the program is a social program to help seniors, and not a taxi service.

Volunteers may be asked to help in more ways than just driving the vehicle. A local trip can be 40 kilometres or 90 minutes—a driver, having driven a client to the grocery store, may wish to spend some time helping them shop before driving them home, for example.

But volunteers are not called on to do lifting or wheelchair transfers.

In addition to drivers, the program is calling for volunteers to escort clients, especially on the longer runs. Often a client will have some dementia or other impairment, and will need help navigating an unfamiliar clinic or hospital. A volunteer escort can make the trip easier and more productive for them.

Family, friends, or other caregivers are the best choice for escorting people, but properly trained and vetted volunteers can fill that role.

The grant that funds the service runs to 2025, and the idea is to portion it out so it is available for the whole term of the grant. AFCL is limited to providing four out-of-town trips per month.

Stonehocker urges people who are getting rides from friends and family to continue to do so, but to be aware the service is available should they need it.

“We’re hoping people will recognize this is not a charter service with unlimited opportunity and resources, but actually we need to look at it as an option of last resort,” Stonehocker said. “We don’t have the capacity to take everybody everywhere. We are a last resort for people who don’t have any other way to get there.”

For more information on volunteering to be a driver or an escort, please see the ad on this page or call Age Friendly Cold Lake at (780) 594-5666.