Driving Hope

The van drivers for New Hope say the road is smooth on this fun-filled and inspiring volunteer adventure.

New Hope, a psycho-social rehabilitation centre for mental health outpatients in Pictou County, is an oasis of hope, a sanctuary for the stresses of life, and a place for renewal. Staffed by a well-liked team of registered nurses trained in mental health, this program offers a balanced blend of therapy, outreach, health education, and integration back into the community.

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By all accounts, the staff and volunteers are continuously uplifted by the humour, grace and intellect of the clients. At times, the lines are blurred as to who is receiving the most benefit.

New Hope is open three days a week for clients that have been assessed and referred by Mental Health. Some clients live nearby and walk to the facility, while others further away need transportation. Responding to the need, a new passenger van was donated in 2005.

But a van needs a driver. And again New Hope has had the good fortune of having not one, but four volunteer drivers. This dedicated crew includes Vernon Green, Dean Roop, Doug Simpson and Kathy Walker.

The drivers pick up the clients first thing in the morning and take them home mid-afternoon. But rides to and from New Hope are only one part. Every week from July to August there are day trips to new locales and experiences, which are entirely client-directed and planned. In the winter, the social bonding and community building continues with gatherings to prepare and share in a meal. And throughout the year, there are weekly recreation outings, including bowling, yoga, and hockey games.

Together, these activities enhance quality of life for New Hope’s clients and encourage problem-solving and important community living skills. The Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Sandbar Mental Health Endowment makes funding for these activities possible.

“Of all the things I have done in my life this is one of the most rewarding,” says Vernon Green who looks forward to driving each week. “We are so lucky to have this vehicle,” he says.

Dean Roop agrees. “The van provides so much freedom in getting around. New Hope saves a great deal of time, effort and expense having this vehicle. We all hope our ‘little bus’, as we call it, will continue for many years,” he says.

Kathy Walker, who also volunteers at the hospital, says it is wonderful to see the variety of activities and the contributions the clients and nurses make to society. “Piloting the van is the highlight of my day,” she says.

“The summer trips are so much fun,” says driver Doug Simpson. “The whole day out of the county is a new adventure, and the food we get to sample at some out-of-the-way jazzy restaurant is the best part.”

The drivers are considered part of the unique and diverse family of clients and nurses. They are invited to join in all the activities, events, and meals at New Hope and beyond. There is no distinction of who’s who. They laugh together, they cry together, and they have each other’s back.

The actual driving is fun, says Doug. “Even though the pick-ups and drop-offs are short in duration, the life-stories exchanged and personal anecdotes are timeless and priceless. We tell each other details of our lives; we sometimes cheer for the wrong hockey teams; we discuss movies and TV shows; we try to figure out the answer to life and we endlessly debate the meaning of it all. Sometimes our “solutions” to questions are non-conformist, but most times we remain freethinking and accepting of one another. We only reflect the mystery and beauty life throws our way,” he says.

“With such generosity of spirit, these volunteers have added immeasurably to the support we provide for New Hope activities,” says Susan Malcolm of the Aberdeen Health Foundation. “They remind us that there are many ways to enhance health care in Pictou County and we give our thanks to each for their kindness, caring and dedication.”

Life at New Hope is renewal, it is progressive, and it is independent. The clients, the staff and the drivers are not just part of the bigger picture, they are making the picture bigger.

The Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Sandbar Mental Health Endowment provides funding support for mental health programs, education and outreach, including activities at New Hope. A donation to Sandbar is the perfect choice for those wanting to make a direct impact on mental health services in Pictou County. Donate Now.

Posted: June 6, 2016