Volunteer Week: ‘The impact you can have on kids’ lives, you just don’t realize’

Dave Taylor looked down to see the familiar face of a child smiling up at him.

He was standing at the counter of a day care centre, picking up a child for Family and Children’s Services when the brown-haired girl with bright eyes saw him and promptly gave him a big hug.

It had been more than a year since the girl had last seen him, and she wasn’t even two years old at the time. But the toddler clearly remembered the 75-year-old St. Catharines resident.

“It sort of blows you away,” Taylor said, reflecting on that moment — one of numerous happy memories he has accumulated in the years he has volunteered as a driver for the agency — transporting children throughout Niagara.

“The impact you can have on kids lives, you just don’t realize.”

Taylor spent most of 40 years managing area supermarkets, followed by nearly a decade running an office supply company, before he “finally packed it in, all together,” and retired.

But after a lifetime of working, Taylor said retirement wasn’t easy.

“There has to be a reason to get up in the morning,” he said. “I’ve worked with some people who were ready to retire at 35. I still haven’t gotten my head wrapped around that.”

He was leaving a restaurant across the road from the FACS office on Hannover Drive, when he noticed a sign in front of the building saying, volunteers wanted.

Taylor said his wife Sue was still working as a kindergarten teacher at the time, and he stopped by the school to help out from time to time — enjoying the experience of working with the bright young minds in the classroom.

The father of three and grandfather of five said he has “infinitely more patience with children” than he did when he was a younger man. The opportunity to keep himself busy while helping children appealed to him.

He stopped at the office and picked up an application.

In the eight years since, he has transported children of all ages throughout Niagara. Although the children are occasionally accompanied by a parent, most of the time Taylor is entrusted to transport the children on their own. He has provided rides to children as young as four days old, as well as teenagers. But most of the children that he safely straps into the car seats in the back of his Hyundai are young — up to about nine years old.

And despite the huge age difference, Taylor said he and his young passengers often find something to talk about during their commute.

“Some of them sing songs. I have one little girl who likes to sing songs to me. And then, I’ll hear: ‘It’s your turn.’ Whatever she sang, I better have been listening. It’s very cute,” he said.

“Some of the smiles that we get from the kids. You get to know them, and they get to know you.”

In a region that is still in the midst of developing its inter-municipal transit system, FACS transportation and volunteer services lead Tammi Barkman said volunteer drivers are a “lifeline … for our children and youth who don’t have any other options.”

Although FACS currently has about 98 volunteer drivers, Barkman said they are collectively making about 120 trips on an average of day — travelling a total of 2.4 million km each year.

Barkman said FACS values and appreciates the contributions of all its volunteers — especially during National Volunteer Week, April 7-13 — but the agency is currently focusing on recruiting as many 30 volunteer drivers like Taylor, to meet the needs of the families it assists.

“We’re experiencing a need for more volunteer drivers,” Barkman said. “This winter we lost over 20 volunteer drivers, due to retirement or their personal circumstances change.”

The agency puts its volunteer drivers firmly in the driver’s seat, allowing them to decide when and where they want to drive, and the days they’re available.

“Our volunteers have sole discretion in inclement weather,” Barkman said. “If they do not feel that it’s safe to go out, they call us and we reschedule. It really comes down to driver discretion and we don’t question it.”

The safety of volunteer drivers and their precious passengers “is our No. 1 priority,” she added.

People interested in becoming a volunteer can find more information at facsniagara.on.ca and apply on-line, or call 905-937-7731.


905-225-1629 | @abenner1

Source: St. Catharines Standard