Vernon volunteers take to water to put smiles on senior's faces - InfoNews

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Vernon volunteers take to water to put smiles on senior's faces

Donna Gosselin helps Ian Stead off the Heaven Can Wait boat.
July 18, 2019 - 6:00 AM

VERNON - Cruising down Okanagan Lake in the comfort of a pontoon boat is a relaxing way to while away the time. But for those now living in longterm care facilities, that opportunity is more than just a boat trip — it's an outing with tremendous therapeutic value.

"You'll see people get on board who are agitated, next thing you know they're having a little nap," boat captain Bob Rinaldi says. "It's extremely relaxing and calming."

Rinaldi is the president of the Okanagan Quality Life Society and a captain for the not-for-profit's boat, named Heaven Can Wait.

Launched in 1992 and named by 103-year-old Rose Griffin, the Heaven Can Wait boat trips take residents from North Okanagan longterm care facilities on hour-long excursions on Okanagan Lake, running four trips a day, five days a week from June to September.

The boat has the ability to take six clients including two wheelchairs, along with two careworkers and two boat captains on trips that depart from the Vernon Yacht Club and return an hour later.

Stepping onboard it's easy to see why the clients, crew and the careworkers enjoy the experience.

"People open up," Donna Gosselin, a recreational worker at Creekside Landing Care Home, said. Gosselin said people react differently on the boat trips compared to other outings to the park or on bus trips.

"It's a different feel... this seems to get people really [talking]. It seems to open people up. You get to know their history and their stories."

With just six clients on the boat, all in need of complex care due to dementia or other cognitive disabilities, the small group setting in the calm surrounds of the lake brings smiles to everyone's faces.

Sitting in his wheelchair, Ian Stead talks about the aluminum boat he once owned.

"I used to fish this lake lots," Stead said. He said he enjoys the boat trip for the "fresh air and the scenery" and how the trip is a welcome break from being inside most of the time and watching television.

"I like TV mind, but I don't like sitting in my room much," he said.

Maurice Toews also talks about his days fishing and again, like the others, talks about the peace and quiet and how he prefers the boat over other excursions.

"I don't like the bus, it's too crowded on there," he said. "[The lake is] peaceful and quiet and there's no traffic."

Second Captain Marnie Cullen reiterates the therapeutic values of the boat trips.

"It's out in the great outdoors, it's so peaceful, you can see how [clients] relax, you can see the stress level leave them," she said. "It's amazing that we have this is in our community."

Feeling fresh air in your face is a recurring theme when the boat passengers say what they enjoy about the trip, and the motto of a similar recently launched cycling program.

Family physician Lauren Lypchuk and her husband Ward Strong, launched the Vernon chapter of Cycling Without Age in June. The program takes seniors and less abled people out as passengers for leisure trips on a purpose-built bicycle rickshaw. Their motto: The right to feel the wind in your hair.

While the boat, the second owned by the organization, cost more than $40,000 and has yearly maintenance costs plus gas, the Okanagan Quality Life Society charge care homes just $25 per boat per trip. Rinaldi said the whole organization is reliant on fundraising and donations from the community.

While the conversations go from fishing trips to past memories of careers, to who could possibly afford the huge properties that dot the shoreline, cookies are shared around, smiles and laughter and everyone gets to enjoy the fresh air on their face on this very therapeutic excursion.

For more information about the Okanagan Quality Life Society go here.

Okanagan Quality Life Society president and boat captain Bob Rinaldi.
Okanagan Quality Life Society president and boat captain Bob Rinaldi.

From right: Maurice Toews, Ashley Fessenden, Herb Fischer, David Stewardson Marnie Cullen and Monica Whittle.
From right: Maurice Toews, Ashley Fessenden, Herb Fischer, David Stewardson Marnie Cullen and Monica Whittle.

From left: Donna Gosselin shares a joke with Maurice Toews.
From left: Donna Gosselin shares a joke with Maurice Toews.

Eugene Taylor relaxes at the back of the boat.
Eugene Taylor relaxes at the back of the boat.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2019
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