Seniors seated in style

Seniors in Fort St. James can now benefit from consistent, safe and speedy traveling thanks to Seniors Helping Seniors’ (SHS) brand new van.

(Left to right) Andy Kozley - volunteer driver Cathy Church - volunteer driver and deliveries

(Left to right) Andy Kozley - volunteer driver Cathy Church - volunteer driver and deliveries

Seniors in Fort St. James can now benefit from consistent, safe and speedy traveling thanks to Seniors Helping Seniors’ (SHS) brand new van.

“It plays an extremely important part in keeping seniors in our community,” Russ Gingrich said, who initiated the idea last summer. “People look to this service and it is for the use of everyone but particularly seniors.”

SHS was launched in 2012 to bring support and services through grant funding to seniors in the community. A Chevrolet Uplander was used to cart seniors around to places such as the bank, grocery store or doctor appointments but, came to a halt in December 2014 when the van was in an accident. Although no one was hurt the vehicle was written off and SHS lost their primary mode of safe transportation.

At the time Gingrich was already in conversation with KDL group, a Fort St. James based forestry and logging business, to possibly work together on getting a new vehicle for the seniors knowing the old van already had more than 200,000 km. Now, with KDL group’s support of $26,000 and the District of Fort St. James’ support of $9,000, a new van was purchased this month.

“We [strongly] believe in this project and have been a long time supporter of this community,” Ben Hoy said, president of KDL group. “We’re proud to be part of the seniors helping seniors program.”

The vehicle will put in excess of 200,000 km going back and forth to Prince George over the next three years. Some of the van’s key safety features include brake assist, six air bags, blind spot monitoring, park-sense rear park assist,  and rear back-up camera.  It is also equipped with folding seats, a television, and seats a  driver and up to six other people at one time.

“Northland Dodge also offered a significant discount due to it’s intended purpose in the community,” Gingrich said.

In it’s first year of service the old van drove a total of 50,572 km, brought 371 clients to appointments and drove 182 out-of-town trips. A possible partnership with the District of Vanderhoof may also give people in Vanderhoof a chance to catch a ride.

The drivers for this service are all volunteers and receive a small honorarium. Currently there are five drivers including Andy Kozly, 77, a retiree in Fort St. James who has actually insured his own vehicle just in case of another emergency.

“I volunteer because one day I might need someone to help me,” Kozly said frankly.

Yvonne Sam is the SHS program coordinator and says the calendar is constantly full with transportation, delivery and social activities.

“[Since we got a van] it’s truly given them their independence and it makes sure their health is being looked after. [Seniors] can depend on us to get them to their appointments and they are very appreciative that the program is here,” she said.