WEST HANTS, N.S. — Moving into assisted living or a senior care facility often means giving up some independence, and for many seniors, it means the days of being able to hop into a vehicle and go for a drive are over.
But for seniors living in West Hants, it doesn't mean they have to give up on taking trips.
The Windsor Senior Citizens Bus Society operates a 36-passenger vehicle specifically for the transportation of senior citizens and/or disabled adults residing in assisted care facilities.
For the seniors who use the service, the bus serves as a lifeline to the outside world.
“I don't know what I'd do without it,” said Louise Buffett, a resident of the Windsor Elms Village in Falmouth. “It's one of the best things we have here.”
And Buffett isn't alone in that sentiment.
“It gets you out and you get some different air, different people for a while,” said St. Clair (Joey) Patterson, a Dykeland Lodge resident who was ready to board a bus bound for Halifax.
“I've gone on just about every trip they've done,” said Patterson, who moved to Dykeland Lodge from his longtime home in Hantsport to be closer to his wife.
Jennifer Tempro, a recreation programmer at Dykeland Lodge, has seen firsthand the impact the bus has had on seniors.
“It's really a great thing,” said Tempro.
“A lot of the residents would have went for Sunday drives with their families and that was something that they could afford to do and also a lot of the gentlemen that come here really miss their cars, their license, so it really gives them the opportunity to get back out there and see the community and go for a drive. That means a lot.”
Jackie Haines, vice-chair of the Windsor Senior Citizens Bus Society, joined the non-profit group about a year ago as she was looking for a meaningful organization to support. She said the service the bus provides to seniors gives them a sense of normalcy and freedom.
“Imagine yourselves, elderly, not able to stay at home anymore. You're now in a facility. You can't walk very well. You need to use a wheelchair. Your family lives out west. And (at least) once a month, the bus comes and takes you out for a drive,” said Haines.
“The bus is essential, really.”
Window to the world
“For most of the residents, it's a window to the world,” said Anne Parks, a Windsor Elms Village employee and a longtime member of the Windsor Senior Citizens Bus Society.
“We have some residents who cannot walk or get out of their big chairs so it's the only way they get to get out beyond the walls of this home,” she continued.
“A lot of people don't think about it. We get in our cars and we go. Our residents don't have that option, for most of them.”
Lillian Fenton, who moved to the Elms from Upper Rawdon earlier this year, said she's thankful she has family that visit and take her on trips. She recently took the bus trip to the Valley to see the apple blossoms in full bloom. She said she sees the benefit in having such a bus available for residents.
“I've never seen one quite like that, where the seats fold up so the wheelchairs can be brought (along). It's nice,” said Fenton.
“My dad used to drive a bus from Kennetcook to Truro three times a week and we never had a bus like that.”
Joyce Baker, who has been a Windsor Elms Village resident for four years, thoroughly enjoys the trips.
“I haven't one complaint,” said Baker.
“For me, it's exciting knowing I'm going on the bus.”
Parks said the bus offers residents the chance to explore places in Nova Scotia they haven't been before and also re-experience favourite haunts.
They have planned outings, offering seniors everything from shopping trips and sightseeing tours to picnics and apple picking experiences. And a special stop for ice cream along the way is often on the itinerary.
“When you see the residents' faces when they're getting on the bus, and especially when they come back after it's been a beautiful day and they have stopped for ice cream... and they're talking about past memories and family members and community members, it's just nice to see how happy they are,” said Victoria Gagne, the director of recreation at Dykeland Lodge.
Most trips are within a 200-kilometre (return) radius.
Gagne said many residents rely on the bus, and they average a few outings a month.
“For the majority of them, it's the only way they can get out and get into the community,” said Gagne.
“If there's any type of mobility issue, getting in and out of a car is very difficult so the bus is one of the opportunities for them to go for a scenic drive and see places — maybe a community they lived in, maybe drive up to the look off.”
The Windsor Senior Bus Society, which is a non-profit group that operates the bus, is fundraising to purchase a new, updated vehicle.
They are currently using a 2004 MF6 Freight Liner.
They've fundraised about $60,000 to date, and are working hard to get a new bus within the next year or year and a half.
“We're looking at needing approximately $250,000. We're reaching out to anybody and everybody that we can think of that may be willing to spare a little,” said Haines.
Haines said the sooner they can replace the aging bus, the better, not only for their bottom line but for the residents who enjoy the outings.
“I think we should stress how important the new bus is because with the old one, same as an old car, the older it gets the more repairs,” Haines said. “As time goes on, repairs get more expensive. Any money that we have to put into the old bus kind of takes away from getting the new bus. It's only going to be a couple years down the road.”
Twice a year, the society holds an online auction on their Facebook page that features new and used items. This spring, the group raised about $9,000.
“No donation is too small. Every donation makes a difference,” said Parks.
The next online auction will be in October.
New use for the bus
The society was recently approved for a license amendment that allows them to provide accessible, affordable transportation to any group or organization located within Hants County or Kings County.
That means, Haines said, that they can supplement their revenue stream while still offering a reliable and convenient service to area citizens.
“If you have anyone in your group that has limitations — poor eyesight, poor mobility, they can't do the stairs — then they can hire us to do a trip. It's very exciting,” said Haines.
The new use for the bus came into effect in March 2018.
The amendment means, for example, a group of seniors from Gladys M. Manning Memorial Home Incorporated or those living in Kendall Lane Housing Society apartments, can now book a bus trip to Halifax to go shopping.
Haines said the bus has averaged 170 trips per year with the local senior homes. Even as they add in new user groups, Haines said that won't affect the planned senior trips.
“The seniors homes have first priority. They do their scheduling and then we work around the home scheduling,” she said, noting there is a fair amount of availability for alternative groups.
“We're getting bookings from groups. With the amended licensing, there's a lot of excitement in the communities in West Hants and Kings.”
Get in touch
To learn more about the Windsor Senior Citizens Bus Society, to donate, or to book a trip aboard the bus, here's how to get in touch.