Patricia is a fighter through and through. As she sits in her small apartment living room on Edmonton’s north side, she recounts the past years, which have not been without hardship. The trouble began about five years ago when Patricia suffered a nasty fall, breaking her right foot and rendering her unable to drive. The experience left Patricia without a reliable mode of transportation and forced her to seek out alternatives. “I was taking cabs wherever I needed to go, and I couldn’t afford it,” says Patricia. “We seniors don’t get a lot of money that we can spend $20 a trip and then $20 back. It was way too expensive.”
It was around this time that Patricia was connected to Drive Happiness by her seniors outreach worker at the North Edmonton Seniors Association (NESA). Drive Happiness is a non-profit assisted transportation service providing affordable transportation to seniors who no longer drive. Volunteers drive seniors to appointments, errands, social outings, and more. At the time, Patricia was able to access the service free of charge due to a subsidy provided by the Pan-Edmonton Group Addressing Social Isolation in Seniors, or PEGASIS. The connection was a revelation for Patricia who, after healing up from her injury, was able to reconnect to her community.
Receiving affordable and reliable rides has impacted Patricia’s ability to connect with her community in many ways. One of Patricia’s regular drivers, a kind and thoughtful man named Harold, has been with her since she started with Drive Happiness. Reliable, punctual, and diligent, Harold makes sure to get Patricia to her medical appointments and social outings.
As of December, Harold had provided 1,740 rides to Edmonton seniors living on Edmonton’s north side. He finds volunteering rewarding and always looks forward to picking up Patricia and having good conversations on drives. “We get to talk about Great Britain and so that’s quite enjoyable to ask her why people say ‘mum’ and ‘love’ and all that,” says Harold, who enjoys learning about Great Britain from Patricia, a British expat.
Over the years, Patricia has made strong connections with NESA and attended events, activities, and classes that would otherwise be inaccessible without transportation.
Patricia recalls a NESA day trip to NAIT’s culinary arts centre. Harold drove Patricia to NESA and then the group embarked by bus to NAIT to partake in a delicious three-course meal. Patricia, who was at one time married to a red seal chef, is a connoisseur of good food. With a smile, Patricia remarks, “the salad was huge and the beef, the main course, was absolutely to die for. We could have had doggie bags to bring some of that home.”
“I’m a sociable person. I’m not a recluse by any means and I don’t want to turn into one,” says Patricia. “If I’ve got NESA and Drive Happiness that can get me back and forth, I’m good to go.”
“I’ve met some really good people, especially this last couple of weeks because of what I’ve gone through with my dog,” says Patricia, gesturing toward her sweet little dog Lola, who resembles a miniature English sheepdog. Lola’s health started to decline in December due to a terminal cancer
diagnosis and the friends Patricia made at NESA provided a much-needed support network during the emotionally tumultuous time.
After capping 2019 off with a Christmas party hosted by Drive Happiness that she attended with her driver Harold and his wife Kathy, Patricia is optimistic about what 2020 will bring.
“You see my apartment,” says Patricia gesturing around her small 2-bedroom apartment. “What it is, is what it is, and I don’t want to get stuck here. Drive Happiness gives me the chance to go wherever I want to go.”
We all benefit when seniors are valued, respected, and supported to live healthily in their own homes and communities. People with robust networks of social and community support have better physical and mental health outcomes. By receiving assisted transportation, Patricia is able to look after her health and remain an active member of wider society. Support for programs like Drive Happiness will enable more seniors to be included and age well in their communities.