By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – The open house celebration for the new Bay St. George Seniors Transportation (BEST) Bus took place on Friday afternoon, Oct. 8 at Kin Square in Stephenville. Michael McCann, Chair of the BEST Committee, hosted the event and said it is an important way to recognize the hard work and efforts of everyone involved.
“Our mission is for all seniors in our communities and people aged 25-plus needing wheelchair accessibility to have a transportation service that embodies an age-friendly philosophy,” said McCann. “This provides opportunities for improving quality of life, wellness, and optimal health while validating capacity, promoting feelings of safety, and creating opportunities for community engagement.”
McCann also spoke about importance of and ongoing need for volunteers, which is how the BEST Bus will be able to provide the service to communities.
“Once we reach our full capacity of volunteers we will do the service Monday to Friday,” said McCann. “Right now, what we are asking is for everybody to have patience. We are doing the best we can in awkward times.”
Odelle Pike, a candidate for Qalipu Chief, delivered an opening prayer and land acknowledgement while recognizing the positive impact this bus will have on many.
“This initiative of the bus here today is very important for our seniors, and I ask everyone here to applaud the people who made this happen,” said Pike. “I would also like to acknowledge our seniors in our communities. This bus will be very important to them because a lot of our seniors right now are hurting. They’re not getting cared for. No one is coming to visit. This will give them an opportunity to leave their houses without having to worry about the transportation and having to pay so much for it.”
Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said this project has been in the works for about two years and offered thanks to the BEST committee as well as town manager Mike Campbell, who got the process started by applying to the provincial government.
“This initiative to help seniors in the communities across Newfoundland and Labrador is in high demand,” said Rose. “We are focused as a community to help out everybody, from children to seniors. Without volunteers and champions, it wouldn’t work. You could have a bus, but it’s the attendants and the volunteers that make it amazing.”
Rose admitted that it takes time to roll out a delivery of service and there will always be ‘bumps in the road,’ but with continued support the service will continue to be an affordable and important success.
MHA Scott Reid (St. George’s – Humber) passed along apologies from Minister John G. Abbott, Minister of Children, Seniors, and Social Development, whose flight was cancelled, leaving him unable to attend as planned.
“As a government, we are keenly aware of the importance of accessible, affordable and inclusive transportation,” said Reid. “The value of ensuring seniors, persons with disabilities, and individuals with low income can access service and participate in their community cannot be overstated.”
MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) expressed a healthy dose of community pride.
“What a remarkable achievement,” said Wakeham. “This is just an example of how, when communities come together, things get done. Our region has a lot of great people running our communities, our municipalities, and coming together on projects will ensure we will get more money.”
Wakeham also noted he has a class 4 license and put his name forward as a possible volunteer future driver for the BEST Bus.
Gloria Downey, honorary senior who was responsible for sending along the suggestion that started it all, said she is delighted to have the bus in the region.
“I’m so grateful the bus is here,” said Downey. “I want to thank all the councillors and all the townships. You all worked so hard. The volunteers and all of the communities have done such a super job. I can’t thank you enough for helping to extend my life, because that’s what extends your life, getting out.”
Last up to the podium was Larry Reid, chair of the governing committee for CREST, a successful seniors transportation program in the Clarenville region who provided guidance for the BEST committee over the years.
“As you proceed on this journey, you will find hundreds of stories like Gloria’s. That’s the reason we’ve been able to keep so many of our volunteers over the years that we’ve been in operation,” said Reid. “Hundreds of stories from individuals that get aboard the bus and talk to us about how important this service is in their lives.”