Due to the unwavering vision and determination of these three individuals, thousands of cancer patients in need have been able to attend essential treatments during their difficult journey.
The catalyst and first President, who recognized the need and in short order rallied a small group of likeminded citizens and formed the nucleus of the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society.
The visionary and passionate advocate for patient welfare insisted that the Society must always be cognizant of the need to plan for the the long term and be there for patients of the future.
Recruited by John MacInnes for his boundless energy, experience and knowledge immediately stepped into the role of chief fund raiser and was eminently successful in ensuring that sufficient money was always in the coffers to fund the rapidly growing volunteer driver force.
Our volunteer community should take great pride in many remarkable accomplishments during our six formative years of operations. This document will capture several key events and milestones, as well as highlight some of the key players who made it happen. Since its inception, our society has had an amazing membership of over four hundred volunteers. Although many have since left, each and every one has made a lasting and positive impact on our success.
Many contributed to this chronicle. While we drew on existing records, early documentation was limited; our energy was focused instead on patient care, growth management, money, and survival. While less than precise in some instances, this is the essence of our story:
The Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society (VCDS) was founded as a result of the Canadian Cancer Society’s (CCS) decision to terminate their popular free ride service in September 2015.
In October, Garth Pinton saw a Global TV interview in which CCS volunteer driver, Larry Coleman, responded with dismay to the news of the cancellation of this essential need for cancer patients. Garth knew instinctively that something must be done. He enlisted a small group of community-minded CCS volunteers to find a viable solution. Among those in attendance were George Garrett (former CKNW investigative journalist) and John MacInnes, an individual who felt great concern and care about the welfare of local cancer patients. Together, Garth, George and John became the founding members of the VCDS.
They established the VCDS as a non-profit society, meeting the minimum BC Societies Act criteria. Garth was elected as President, George as Vice-President, and John as Board Member at Large, with several meeting attendees financing the society with $20.00 donations. The VCDS unfolded with the following milestones:
On February 29, 2016 (leap year as Garth often reminded everyone) the VCDS commenced operations with thirty-five former CCS drivers, with no money, management systems, operational or funding strategy and no policies or procedures. At this point, the organizers had no clear understanding of the monumental task in front of them. Inspired by leaders like John MacInnes, what they did have was drive and determination to make it happen. It was a hectic time.
In March 2016, Susanne Hansen joined the board as Driver Coordinator and Gail Espenberg became a board member to provide new driver orientation (along with Garth John and George). Jen Boucher established the VCDS website, Gmail account, Google Drive online application forms, Mailchimp account (for newsletters) and a Canada Helps account. Melissa Godinhos, using her CCS experience and boundless energy, developed dispatcher procedures, created an online donation procedure through Canada Helps, and established and maintained an Excel driver database.
Through free newspaper, radio and TV interviews, the VCDS gained a small public profile, resulting in a steady stream of new volunteer drivers. Initially, processing driver applications fell largely to Garth. At one point, the Board gathered to assemble and mail driver kits to clear the backlog of ready applicants. With Garth wearing many hats, Bill Ruppel stepped up to assume responsibility for driver management. He soon established a smooth, efficient driver application and orientation process, still in use today.
Dispatchers and drivers were recruited from former CCS volunteers. Each dispatcher maintained patient and driver records manually. There was one patient phone line. Santosh Joshi sat on the floor of her North Delta basement suite, answering the phone, recording each patient’s information on recipe cards and passing it along to dispatchers by phone. Gail Espenberg helped out in Surrey, handling both dispatching and driving. Tina Poole dispatched from her home on the North Shore, as did Orrie Babiuk in New Westminster, Amy Wong in the Tri-Cities, Zach Khung in Maple Ridge, and Melissa Godinho in Langley.
Garth, John, and George (“GG” as he became known), made dozens of applications to firefighter unions, municipal councils, service clubs, corporations and foundations for financial assistance. With his smooth manner and many “friends in high places” George Garrett successfully convinced the Provincial Government to provide an initial start-up grant of $30,000. This proved to be an essential component regarding sustainability for the purposes of driver vehicle expense reimbursement.
To finesse a last minute BC Gaming grant application, “GG” enlisted the aid of a friend, Tom Akam, who had experience with the grant application process. Together with John Charlesworth (Treasurer) and George McAffer, they completed the application on a September weekend prior to submission for a 2017 grant. The application was successful; the VCDS received a one-time $30,000 grant that December. Unfortunately, the Society was ineligible for Gaming Commission funding in 2018 and beyond due to funds on hand having exceeded permissible limits – the downside of successful fundraising!
In the first ten months of 2016, the Society provided over 6,332 patient rides and had driven a total of 199,842 km. Amazingly, at the December 2016 board meeting, Bill Ruppel reported: “We have 90 volunteer drivers, although about 60 are active at this time.”
With a modicum of short-term financial stability, a steady stream of new drivers available and an increasing sense of public awareness, the Society was able to meet the growing patient demand. With this, the focus turned to building the Society into a professional organization. Larry Coleman, Bill Ruppel and George McAffer were appointed board members in the summer of 2016.
Many people and events shaped the future of the VCDS during the next four formative years; almost all were positive. Sadly, John MacInnes passed away from cancer in July 2017, but his inspiration and vision of the future lives on.
Dispatchers were, and continue to be, a cornerstone of the Society’s operations. Many followed the original cadre of dispatchers, including: Santosh Joshi, Tina Poole, Melissa Godinho, Madelaine Young, Mary Rankin, Wendy Ireland, Orrie Babiuk.On 18 March 2017, the VCDS held its first Annual General Meeting at the Cloverdale Legion. It was chaired by Garth Pinton with sixty-two members in attendance. The VCDS Constitution and Bylaws were approved. It was reported that just under $150,000 was raised in 2016 with a 2017 budget forecast of $175,000. The venue, together with the lunch provided by the Legion Ladies Auxiliary, were both donated thanks to “GG’s” good work.
The 21 August 2017 board meeting was a pivotal moment in the short history of the VCDS. After leading the Society through the first hectic eighteen months, Garth Pinton tendered his resignation for personal reasons. John Charlesworth and Gail Espenberg also resigned. Bob Smith, Tom Akam, Dave Ludwar and Orrie Babiuk were appointed as board members. These four members, together with existing board members “GG,” George McAffer, Bill Ruppel and Larry Coleman, managed all facets of the organization and provided the necessary leadership as the Society matured over the next four years.
At the same meeting, Bob Smith was elected President. His extensive experience in many executive health sector roles, together with proven leadership skills, elevated the board to a new level of maturity. With his background, he gained access to key decision makers at the highest level of governments, foundations, CCS, BC Cancer Agency and the Vancouver Foundation to promote VCDS awareness.
Developing and managing volunteer drivers and dispatchers proved to be a formidable task with patient requests growing annually at around 30%. Bill Ruppel accepted the role of managing both drivers and dispatchers. He developed comprehensive driver policies, procedures and processes to interview and orientate all new volunteer drivers. Recruiting drivers was an ongoing task. While some drivers undertook several hundred trips per year, others carried out several drives per month. Many drivers were retired and were absent for several months at a time while travelling. By the end of 2020, with about two hundred current drivers, Bill had successfully processed over four hundred applications.
Orrie Babiuk was appointed Director of Dispatcher Services. She worked with Melissa Godinho and consulted with the other dispatchers to develop a comprehensive Dispatcher Handbook, published in May 2019. Dispatchers became very adept and creative in matching drivers with patients, often when drivers were in short supply.
By late 2019, with patient numbers growing and with increasing operational complexity, the driver/dispatcher responsibility was divided. Bill Ruppel was appointed Director Driver Operations.
In late 2019 Mac Petrie joined the VCDS as a driver and subsequently trained as a relief dispatcher. In April 2021 he was appointed to the board where he played major roles in developing a donor management program (reported later), strategic planning, drafting the expansion initiative and managing and drafting numerous grant applications. In the summer of 2021 he succeeded Orrie as Secretary and later that year was appointed Director Dispatch Services and leader of the Vancouver service expansion.
Each successive year, patient demand grew by about 30%. In 2019, at the peak of service volume to date (pre Covid-19), the society had 200 drivers, 14 dispatchers, provided 20,910 patient trips for 972 patients, drove over 581,000 km, donated 26,900 volunteer hours, and donated $90,700 of their vehicle expenditure back to the Society. An estimated 98% or more of all valid patient ride requests were fulfilled.
Fundraising and the prudent management of donated funds was central to the success of maintaining a viable patient service. With no financial assistance from the Canadian Cancer Society nor the BC Cancer Agency, securing funding fell directly to the Society, with “GG” initially taking the helm. As “a One Man Band,” he embarked on a relentless campaign of personal visits, media appeals, grant applications and letter writing. His leadership, drive, determination and dedication contributed immeasurably to success in funding the continuous growth of the VCDS.
Tom Akam, with his extensive accounting background, was elected Treasurer on July 1, 2017. Tom was initially a reluctant candidate, due to his many commitments. He would ultimately declare that the VCDS was his highest priority. A true convert! With more than forty years of CPA experience, he developed financial policies and procedures, and provided the Board with sound, practical financial advice. In September 2017 Tom created the Society’s General Ledger and Chart of Accounts.
In late 2017, George McAffer assumed responsibility for grant research and application writing from “GG.” In 2018, the Society applied to over sixty foundations, corporations and municipalities with a success rate of about 70%. In 2019, the Society purchased a one-year database of all CRA registered foundations called Grant Advance. Using this database Mac was instrumental in researching and applying to over one hundred foundations, resulting in $31,500 in grants. A good rate of return on a $1,300 investment!
Between 2018-2019, fundraising was raised to the next level, as follows:
The City of Surrey, Township of Langley, Surrey and Delta Firefighters and the North Delta Rotary Club have been annual supporters of the VCDS since its inception in 2016.
In 2019, $450,500 was raised through a variety of programs involving many hard-working and committed volunteers, whom we are very much indebted to.
n 2019, Bob Smith and Tom Akam initiated a Board resolution to approve the establishment of the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Endowment Fund in the Vancouver Foundation.
Electronic Board Meeting Minutes: Sep 8, 2019
Be it resolved that the Board approve a gift of $100,000 to the Vancouver Foundation to create the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Endowment Fund. (VCDEF)
Be it resolved that the Board recommend to the VCDS membership, by special resolution, the approval of a gift to the Vancouver Foundation in the amount of $100,000 to enable the creation of the VCDS
The stated purpose of the fund was to aid in the sustainability of VCDS by ensuring a regular flow of funding to meet continuous VCDS operations and unforeseen circumstances in the future. While the fund remains the property of the Vancouver Foundation, the terms of the agreement state that the income of the fund accrues to the Society, which may encroach on the fund’s capital, if needed. At the end of 2020, the value of the fund had reached $398,000.
Looking to the future, George McAffer and “GG” developed a Legacy Program for planned giving through a person’s Will. By program rollout in early 2020, the Society received four bequests, two from current VCDS volunteers, one from a former patient and another from a lady who passed from cancer complications. Although “GG” retired in September 2020, he continued as an active VCDS Legacy Ambassador to promote the program.
In early 2017, George McAffer researched and recommended a program to securely store plans, correspondence, meeting minutes and all other documents relative to the efficient management of the Society. With Board approval, the Central Data Registry (CDR) – a free Microsoft product to charitable organizations – was installed and implemented. In spite of its usefulness, the Society has yet to avail of its full potential – a project for the future.
In the Society’s early days, Melissa Godinho maintained an Excel driver database. With the rapid growth of operations, it became apparent that this was inefficient and inadequate. Garth Pinton worked with Melissa to locate a cost-effective, user-friendly, expandable system: RideScheduler (RS). In August 2017, the Society purchased and installed RideScheduler, which provided a centralized database for patient and driver information, identified available patient ride requests, assigned rides to drivers, provided a historical data base of the Society’s activities, and became a principle source of information for operational and strategic management. At a cost of USD$588.00 annually, it proved to be a “steal” and a management cornerstone.
Dave Ludwar (a South Surrey driver and Board member with systems experience), facilitated management of the project and continued to improve the system. He was later appointed as Director of Technical Services where he researched a number of technologies for potential future use and managed and enhanced existing programs.
In mid-2017, Rick Janssen (a New Westminster volunteer driver), developed a monthly statistics report with information gathered from driver monthly expense reports. The report, segmented by region, details key performance metrics and proved to be an invaluable aid in strategic planning.
In late 2017, Dave Ludwar introduced Liesa Billings, owner of Left Coast Marketing, to the VCDS. Liesa’s arrival proved to be the beginning of a new chapter of public awareness for the Society. Soon after volunteering, Liesa assumed responsibility of the Society’s website. She became increasingly involved in marketing and has successfully raised the VCDS profile on social media platforms. Liesa designed and made print-ready for and electronic distribution materials and three very successful Annual Reports. She has also contributed numerous research hours and provided countless suggestions to improve Society awareness and funding.
In 2018, Bill Ruppel collaborated with Al Lund (Ladner-based volunteer driver, former RCMP traffic officer and former Director of Traffic Education Centre at Justice Institute of BC) to develop and implement a driver refresher training program. Al and other Justice Institute instructors presented three successful courses with about twenty-five volunteers attending each one.
Dean Callaghan (a South Surrey volunteer driver) was appointed to the Board in early 2019. Shortly thereafter, he drafted the Donor Recognition Program to standardize processes for donor relations, recognition and retention to, foster goodwill with donors and promote their continued financial commitment and ongoing loyal support.
Later that year Dean, again stepped up and negotiated an agreement with BC Children’s Hospital to transport all young cancer patients under nine years of age who mandatorily require child car seats. To ensure the service was provided safely, Dean partnered with the BC Automobile Association and provided child car seat installation and restraint training for a cadre of VCDS volunteer drivers. To add flexibility to the program, Dean successfully completed the BCAA child seat instructor course to train future drivers in-house.
In support of donor management, Dave Ludwar sourced and recommended a comprehensive donor management system called “Little Green Light” (LGL) in June 2020. Together with Mac Petrie, they implemented the system. Mac laboriously uploaded over 1600 donor files, including contact information, donation history and correspondence tracking. The system manages grant application data for foundations, municipalities, corporations, service clubs and first responders. It also prompts users when actions are required. In early 2021, LGL was used to efficiently export contact data for a mass mailout to all donors contributing $100 or more in 2020.
The pandemic had a profound impact on us all. In March 2019, at the height of the first wave, VCDS paused service, resuming operations on June 22 with a comprehensive Infection and Prevention Control policy. Danielle Richards (an RN, Infection Control Practitioner and VCDS support volunteer) provided guidance in developing and updating the policy that allowed the VCDS to safely continue service throughout the pandemic.
A number of drivers subsequentially elected to temporarily stand down from driving. Anecdotally, the combination of dramatically increased electronic doctor consultations, family / friend availability through “work from home” arrangements, and a temporary reduction in cancer diagnoses, all resulted in about a 40% decrease in ride requests over the previous year.
The 5th Annual General Meeting was held April 10, 2021 via a Zoom conference, necessitated by Covid-19 restrictions. The venue was a first for the VCDS, thanks to the technical expertise, attention to detail and management of the event by Dean Callaghan. It proceeded flawlessly with an efficient voting process and a friendly interactive feature. Highlights included guest speaker Dr. Ursula Lee (Medical Oncologist and Executive Medical Director at BC Cancer, Surrey) and the election of three new Board members, Kathy Smee, Andréa Milman and Gord Locke. Unfortunately, Kathy resigned in early May for personal reasons.
In March 2021, Kelly Region Seniors’ Resource Society Executive Director, approached the Society to consider providing much needed cancer transportation for cancer patients in Chilliwack. An informal agreement was quickly reached; Kelly facilitated driver recruitment through her extensive network, Judy White enthusiastically agreed to be the dispatcher, administrative processes were established, and the service commenced in July 2021.
The Freemasons Grand Lodge of BC and Yukon funded and operated the Cancer Car Program servicing cancer patients of Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Vancouver Island and parts of the BC Interior for over thirty-three years, in conjunction with the Canadian Cancer Society. In 2020, the Freemasons decided to transition from a service provider to that of a service funder. They approached the VCDS to consider assuming the Lower Mainland service in their place. By May 2021, after protracted discussions, an agreement was reached wherein the VCDS would expand service to the four cities with Freemasons providing financial sponsorship of up to $150,000 annually for at least three years.
Within weeks of this agreement, service for Burnaby and New Westminster cancer patients commenced. Planning for Vancouver and Richmond focused on an extensive, Lower Mainland multi-media recruiting for volunteer drivers and dispatchers that met with unprecedented success. Over a two month period in the summer, the VCDS received over one hundred driver volunteer applications.
Our Richmond service commenced successfully in July. Despite the recruiting success cited above, Vancouver recruiting did not match expectations. In anticipation of a high volume of cancer patient requests, the service was launched in September with a “soft start,” initially providing service for radiation patients to the Vancouver Cancer Centre. As the Society’s cadre of drivers grew, service was increased to Vancouver General Hospital, other centres and a wider variety of patient diagnoses. As patient awareness grows, our challenge over the coming months will be to recruit, train and retain volunteer drivers and dispatchers to meet our Vision: “A ride for all cancer patients in need.”
To Be Continued…
This chronicle is intended to be the cornerstone of the anticipated long history of the VCDS. Annual updates will record our emergence from the pandemic to “normal” operations, the success of our service expansion plan and other events yet to unfold.
Compiled and edited by George McAffer and Andréa Milman