Helping Hands Create Happy Hearts

By Rita Button

The people who live at Amica’s Somerset House are a philanthropic bunch. Throughout the year, they participate in fund raisers to fund Christmas hampers for seniors who eke out a lonely existence, often doing without. Those who cannot always participate in the fund raisers might write a cheque to help finance the hampers. And what hampers they are! Non-perishable food, blankets, gloves, and gift certificates for Tim Horton’s and Thrifty’s are just a few of the items that have appeared in the baskets. Last year, eighty baskets were given. “Each one is a heart-warming experience,” says Brian.

Brian Roe, General Manager of Somerset House on Dallas Road revealed another way that money is raised for the Christmas gifts. At times, people move out and cannot take all of their furniture with them. The furniture is stored and offered for sale to someone who is moving in and who needs some furniture. The profit from these transactions supports the Christmas hamper project. Raffles are another way Amica show their giving spirit.

When it’s time to put the hampers together, Brian described the “sparkling atmosphere” that permeates the room where people sort and wrap the gifts in creating the hampers. “It’s the feeling of Christmas coming alive in the spirit of generosity and joy,” he added.

Understanding that happiness occurs not only as a result of receiving but also as a result of giving, the people creating the hampers include at least one item that can be re-gifted. “Sometimes,” Brian said, “this hamper is the only gift a person might receive at Christmas time.” A staunch believer in spreading happiness, and easing the way for others, Brian is happy to be contacted by email if you know of a person who would benefit from being remembered in this way. Contact him at

While Helping Hands is a community initiative, Amica’s corporate side also gets into the spirit of giving at their annual fundraisers. In Toronto this November, Amica raised half a million dollars in one night. All of this money benefits seniors who could use a little help. 

It was at such a fundraiser that New Horizons in James Bay was the beneficiary of the proceeds raised at a Vancouver event.

New Horizon bus - photo by Ted Ross

New Horizon bus - photo by Ted Ross

Kim Dixon, executive director of New Horizons in James Bay, commented on the magnificence of the gift. Occasionally, she had borrowed the Amica bus to transport seniors. One of her friends at Amica suggested that Kim apply for funds from Amica’s Helping Hands project so that New Horizons would have the convenience of owning its own bus which would allow for many more trips, thereby expanding the world of seniors who often don’t get a chance to go to places that are beyond their ability to walk to them.

Always looking for ways in which to enhance seniors’ lives, Kim applied, was interviewed, and was told after the corporate fundraiser that her application had been selected to be the recipient of enough money for them to buy a van for their own use. Approximately $3,000.00 of New Horizons money was used in this project, but the rest was given by Amica.

The discussions at New Horizons began. How big should the bus be? What kinds of aids to transportation should be included? They finally opted for a basic fourteen passenger van. Wanting to get it right, they decided on smaller to start, and expand from there if things went well, and if money was available. Considerations such as a lift, number of passengers, allowing walking assistance devices on the bus had to be discussed and decided upon.

The requirements of safety and insurance were identified and met. The bus requires an inspection every six months, a commercial license that costs $1,200.00 and annual insurance is $2,000.00. Maintenance is a kind of gift from Suburban Motors from whom they bought the bus. In spite of the bus’s being slightly used, Suburban allowed new Horizons to purchase the five year maintenance warranty package as if the bus were new.

Kim sees the bus as another way for seniors to see more of the world, to make friends with fellow passengers, and to experience a sense of freedom that allows people to venture further afield without having to worry about how they’re going to get home. She would agree with Tennyson, the nineteenth century poet who believed that “… all experience is an arch where through/Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades/ For ever and for ever when I move.” The boundaries of seniors’ worlds connected to New Horizons are forever increasing, thanks, in large part, to Kim’s unquenchable desire to create a world of infinite choice.

The bus is always full. Every time they get on the bus, the passengers’ worlds expand. Going for lunch at distant places such as The Aerie, shopping at the Sidney Market, or visiting Salt Spring Island invites all to foster new friendships and to become curious about new places. Kim is organizing two nights of Christmas lights viewing.

Added to their full roster of activities such as art classes, current event discussions, colouring with an artist, bridge, euchre along with other card games, as well as choir practices for various groups, to name a few of the selection, is now a way to create new boundaries for their worlds.

New Horizons lives up to its name. And the magic of Christmas becomes a year of new friendships, new experiences—gifts wrapped in the generosity of countless people.

A long time ago, in 1970, The Who sang about a magic bus. While this bus is certainly not the one they were imagining, I think it is the best kind of magic—people finding new ways to appreciate life and including others into their experiences.

The Dickens Fair – A James Bay Tradition for over 36 years.

The Dickens Fair – A James Bay Tradition for over 36 years.

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