By Jenn Watt
Published Oct. 18 2016
Hank O’Reilly is still in his Essonville Line home when I arrive. It’s a beautiful sunny Wednesday morning and Hank is in the mood to chat. And sing. And laugh.
I learn that this is a typical ride with one of Highlands East’s most gregarious musicians.
Today I get to ride along with one of the Community Support Services volunteers Doug Stephen in the transportation program as he safely delivers a client to Haliburton.
Doug is a friendly guy too which makes it easy to imagine how these two get along so well.
Hank offers up the front seat and gamely hops into the back taking the middle spot so he can better chat with us on the road. He hands me a Ziploc bag with two DVDs in it and some writing in black Sharpie marker.
The song on the album is called The Old Man and the Kids he explains and The Old Pocket Watch. One of the tracks is inspired by homeless vets on the streets of Florida.
If you spend time in Haliburton or Highlands East you’re likely to have bumped into Hank. He’s the guy playing guitar and singing originals in the park during the farmers’ market or at Canoe FM during their annual summer radiothon.
A couple of weeks ago he came to the commemorative garden opening at Community Support Services and played an original piece for the crowd called Thank You for Your Kindness. He told staff and volunteers then about how the services CSS provides helped him during some lonely periods in his life.
Doug usually picks Hank up for any appointments he has in Haliburton. Today he’s going to the chiropractor and then they’ll swing by the dollar store and Rexall before heading home. While Hank is in his appointment Doug will run his own errands.
Volunteers with CSS charge mileage to the organization but aren’t paid for their time. They are usually dispatched based on location since mileage is paid from door to door. Doug has a place near Gooderham.
Doug is a happily retired banker who has done plenty of volunteering in the Highlands.
“The best thing we did was to move up here” he says.
Drivers for CSS often go to Peterborough Lindsay or Bracebridge taking clients to appointments which are mostly medical in nature he says.
Transportation co-ordinator Judy Cumming says drivers with CSS cover all types of medical appointments and are available to drive seniors and adults with illness or disabilities. She can also refer to other driving programs so she encourages anyone with a need to give her a call at 705-457-2941.
CSS Transportation typically has about 60 volunteer drivers and about 450 clients. Last year they made 6500 trips. Cumming says numbers have been steadily increasing over the years. The organization is always looking for volunteers – especially for the busier season which is between November and May.
Staff and volunteers often have quite a friendly relationship with clients and Judy is no different. She says she’ll sometimes come to work and check her voicemail to find musical messages from Hank.
As we near the halfway point of our ride Hank rifles through his bag producing a jar of pink applesauce he made. It’s a gift for me – his fellow traveller.
“If you hang around Hank long enough he’ll write a song about you” Doug jokes but I think he’s only half joking.
As we pull up to the chiropractor’s office in Haliburton Hank jumps out of the car. He isn’t sure how long his appointment will be he says. Could be an hour.
“I won’t go home without you” Doug calls out as we pull away from the curb.