A piece of heaven on Okanagan Lake

Gateby residents and staff (above) join Okanagan Quality of Life Society volunteers for a cruise on Heaven Can Wait II at the Vernon Yacht Club. - jennifer Smith/Morning Star
Gateby residents and staff (above) join Okanagan Quality of Life Society volunteers for a cruise on Heaven Can Wait II at the Vernon Yacht Club.
— image credit: jennifer Smith/Morning Star

The wind in his hair and smell of fresh Okanagan air aboard Heaven Can Wait II brought senior Harvey Sheppard back in time.

Before the Gateby resident’s age and mobility issues caught up to him, the water was home to Sheppard.

“I sailed from Labrador to New York to...” said Sheppard, recounting his sailing days.

While the pontoon Sheppard boarded recently was much smaller than the vessel he once navigated, it was an unforgettable moment for the wheelchair-bound senior.

Likewise, George Garrett could hardly wipe the grin from his face as he partook in the excursion provided by the Okanagan Quality of Life Society.

“I’d just be inside watching TV otherwise but now I’m outside getting fresh air,” grinned Garrett.

While disability and age prevents most of the residents aboard from expressing any outward enthusiasm, there’s an obvious twinkle in their eyes and a soothing calmness which overcomes everyone on board.

“It’s just a nice relaxing time,” said Sandy Behan, after helping all her Gateby clients board the boat and settle in with a picnic.

As a recreation therapy assistant, Behan has been on numerous trips aboard Heaven Can Wait, and now the Heaven Can Wait II pontoon.

“It’s our most popular outing for sure. It’s the highlight of the summer.”

The one-of-a-kind experience is made possible thanks to the Okanagan Quality of Life Society, which owns and operates the pontoon boat.

For most of the senior residents at 25-plus various facilities which take part, it’s an experience they might not otherwise get.

“It’s not like they can get out camping or anything,” said Behan. “It’s just so worthwhile.”

And likewise, for the 30 volunteer captains who take the seniors out two to four times a day, five days a week, it’s a rewarding experience.

“It’s a great thing to be involved in,” said Sid Adams, who has been volunteering for six years.

“You get pats on the back, you get handshakes and the odd hug.”

The society has offered the service since 1992 to senior homes as well as Kindale and more recently the Vernon and District Association for Community Living.

“We have people coming as far away as Kelowna and Salmon Arm,” said Ron Heuman, past president who now looks after all the bookings.

“We try to get as many on the water as possible.”

But now the society is proudly sporting a new vessel.

Thanks to the generosity of the community, Heaven Can Wait II has been in operation since May 30.

“The new boat certainly lends itself,” said Heuman of the vessel which is a little roomier and more easily accessible for wheelchairs, has a larger motor and is more stable with three pontoons instead of two.

It’s also a little drier.

“On the old boat we used to get people’s feet wet once in a while,” said Adams.

The society only charges $20 per trip, just to help with gas and insurance costs.

The minimal cost is thanks to the trained volunteers who operate the boat.

For Adams, it’s an excursion he expects he will never give up.

“I’ll be doing this until I can become a passenger.”

Captain Norm Armstrong adds: “We get dibs on the front seats.”

For more information, visit www.oqls.


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