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Trans County Transportation goes full circle for 10th anniversary

By Geoff Agombar, Digby Courier

 

Outgoing board president Herb Anderson and executive director Debbie Decker prepare to cut the cake to celebrate Trans-County Transportation Society’s 10th Anniversary. (Geoff Agombar)

While a 10th anniversary tends to make events in the rear-view mirror appear closer than they actually are, Trans-County Transportation Society (TCTS) is keeping its eyes on the road ahead.

“To be honest I can’t even find a word to describe how this feels,” says executive director Debbie Decker reaching to describe her pride at reaching the milestone. “In 2004 there was nothing, we were on the brink. Some days I look at what we have, and I’m just amazed. In such a short time we have grown so much… To see it come back to life… I’m very, very proud of this organization. I love it like my own.”

TCTS began as a volunteer organization in 1999. When Decker joined in October of 2004, however, she quickly came to the disheartening conclusion that the cupboards were bare. “We had two aging vehicles: a minivan and a minibus, but you could never be sure thy were going to start in the morning. And, the fee for a trip was less than what it cost us in gas. As I went through the financials it was clear that we were already coming to the end of our funding for that year. I mean, we were days from closing the doors.”

Decker called in then board chair Phil Milo to show him the dire state of affairs. During that meeting Milo reached into his pocketbook and wrote her a personal cheque to cover two-weeks salary. Decker remembers contemplating Milo’s gesture that night and coming to the realization that she was determined not to let the organization fail.

The next day, Decker and members of her board began forming a plan to dump the clunkers and restructure their service. Treasurer John Langmead and volunteer driver Gary Weese began making presentations to car dealerships up and down the Valley seeking sponsorship. They found a happy partner in Jeff Best of Kentville’s Best Toyota.

Best offered to subsidize the purchase of a new Corolla to the tune of $300 per month for 3 years – roughly half the cost of monthly payments – and TCTS was on the road to recovery.

“That was their gift to help us restructure the organization,” says Decker crediting another generous partner with making survival possible.

Since purchasing that Corolla, TCTS has made a complete turnaround. With the recent purchase of a 2009 Uplander wheelchair accessible minivan with the support of a $36,544 grant from the Canada-Nova Scotia Infrastructure Secretariat, the society now runs a fleet of ten vehicles including cars, vans and buses. Paid staff has expanded from one part-time driver to one full time driver plus seven part-time drivers. TCTS now serves all of Annapolis County and much of Kings and clients range from the elderly, disabled and economically-disadvantaged to the Annapolis West Health Foundation, Annapolis Valley School Board, V.O.N., nursing homes, and charter clients.

At the recent annual general meeting/birthday party, speakers such as MLAs Stephen McNeil and Leo Glavine, representatives from the Utility Review Board, and the Canada-Nova Scotia Infrastructure Secretariat, Bridgetown Mayor Art Marshall, and Bridgetown Chamber of Commerce President Dan Forbes joined volunteers, clients and board to celebrate the rebirth and explosive growth of TCTS.

Clients were quick to laud years of caring service from their drivers, both paid and volunteer. Staff and volunteers were presented with gifts of thanks. Board members reminisced about 2004’s trial by fire and glowed about all that has been achieved since. Decker deflected credit onto her board and team. Visiting representatives gushed about the inspiration they have taken from working with “Debbie the Dynamo,” and held up TCTS’s vision, professionalism, and drive as a model for what heights can be reached when tailoring grassroots responses to local challenges.

Before joining Decker to cut the cake, outgoing president Herb Anderson handed the baton to a newly elected president of the board, Phil Milo, prompting Decker to comment that everything had come full circle — a fitting metaphor for a business on four wheels.

“Initially our vision was to provide transport to seniors for day-to-day needs. Now we’re looking at being the primary transportation service provider for the Valley,” says Decker looking ahead TCTS’s second decade.

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