By JUSTIN ROBERT PAUL
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – The BEST Shuttle service for Bay St. George has received a new bus to transport seniors around the area. The need for the new bus became apparent when Gloria Downy moved here from Clarenville and had hired the CREST Bus, which caters to seniors, to help her move.
“When she came here, she met up with (Stephenville Town Manager) Mike Campbell. She had asked ‘How come we don’t have a bus like that?’ The rest was history so to speak. This was the initiation,” said Michael McCann, Chair of the board tasked with overlooking the Best Shuttle service.
Stephenville, Kippens, Port au Port East, Stephenville Crossing and St. Georges all came on board to partner for the application. Once approved, the provincial government then supplied a bus.
“They had a meeting and brought people together from the communities within the different groups, like the Knights of Columbus, Lions Club, YMCA, (Town) Councillors. And basically, we all went and discussed, and from that meeting they picked a board,” explained McCann. “It’s 100 per cent a non-profit organization.”
The organization requires volunteers to offer the service, but unfortunately, due to COVID-19 regulations, volunteers aren’t as easy to come by as they were before the pandemic.
“When you’re trying to create something that requires volunteers in a time when you’re not allowed out, and socializing, and that type of thing, it’s almost impossible. But, we’re working through it. We have a can-do attitude,” said McCann. “As my daughter would say ‘My name is Michael McCann, Not Michael McCan’t!”
McCann said that getting the service up and running took a lot of dedicated people coming together.
“It really is a team effort. Our board is a really good team and we had some really excellent partners generated,” said McCann. “Our board is Operations Manager of YMCA Sheryl Johnson, Vice-Chair Clyde Russel, Lenny Hann is Driver Chair, and Gary Jesso is our Treasurer. And they both have roles within the communities and they’re doing due justice for our seniors.”
Despite the lack of volunteers, the team has not lost any faith in the cause.
“We’ve submitted a lot of letters to the communities, and you know the response from volunteers hasn’t been great. It needs to go a long way. But we’re continuously working at it, and continuously canvassing, and vehicles like yours will hopefully help us get more volunteers participating. Because we do the driver program, we have the assistants, and everything for the volunteer is free. There is no charge to the volunteers, so if you need your license, and you meet parameters, then that’ll be paid for.”
The BEST Shuttle service is based off the Clarenville model, which is predominately run by seniors who volunteer. The shuttle service is currently functioning with a partner system in place, in which partners make contributions.
“We sent out letters out to local businesses asking if they want to be partners with us, and depending on the size of the partnership contribution, that would basically result in what happens afterwards. For example, our bus is laid out in decals. So, if you’re contributing towards the partnership, $500 to $1,000, then have a decal where you can put on the bus. Like your logo, or town insignia, and that will stay on the bus for one year,” explained McCann.
After that year has gone by, the partnership may be renewed. All money will go towards the bus to continue its service to seniors.
The shuttle will help seniors reach doctor appointments, shop for groceries, and run other errands they might have. Normally some of these trips would cost seniors quite a bit of money, especially on a return trip. The BEST shuttle service will bring seniors to a destination for a fraction of that cost.
“From Stephenville to say Port au Port, or Port au Port to Stephenville, it is roughly $18 or something like that. Which for a senior on a fixed income, that’s a lot of money to pay $40 roughly to make that trip and return trip. I would suggest to you that they can’t afford, especially like I said, if you are on a provincial or federal pension. So, it would be $4 return, and that means they can take that money and put into the groceries that they would need to eat, or be able to afford the prescription they needed but couldn’t,” said McCann.
This service is intended to make community more accessible and affordable, which is likely to be a tremendous help to seniors in the region.
“Nationally, there is 20 per cent population of seniors within Canada. Within our five communities, if were to average it out, we are about 10 per cent above the national average. We’re closer to 30 per cent. They forecast within the next 10 years that the national increase will raise 10 per cent. So, that’ll bring us to 40 per cent, if we stay proportionate to the numbers. So, it’s not if we need it – we need it,” said McCann.
With such a large portion of the population being over the age of 65, and for those not having a family member or caregiver to rely on, this shuttle is very much needed. McCann is taking this mandate to help seniors quite personally.
“I’m going to meet the goal. We’re going to do it as a team, as a group, as a community, as a partnership. That this is the right thing to do. This is needed.”