For 23 years, Susan Wheeler has been a board member with the Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society, which offers a host of programs for people with mental, physical and emotional challenges.
She is also one of about 200 volunteers who assist participants on a weekly basis.
“I started out as a volunteer, and I still volunteer on Tuesday afternoons. I enjoy it, the volunteers enjoy it, and of course the people that ride enjoy it.”
Originally from Ontario, Wheeler moved west in the mid-70s. She attended Malaspina College when she lived in Nanaimo. She took a course and moved to the Comox Valley in the late-70s.
“I raised two kids here in the Valley,” said Wheeler, a grandmother of seven. “One is still here and one has moved to Vancouver. It was a great place to raise kids.”
When she was a single mother and her children were young teens, various special needs teenagers lived at her house on weekends to provide their families respite. When her own children reached high school, she was a foster mom to one teen for about four years.
“He was part of the family.”
Wheeler’s partner, John, also had a special needs man living with him when the couple moved in together. He too was part of the family for many years.
Before retiring, Wheeler had been a program worker with the Comox Valley School District for 20-some years. She operated a kitchen for special needs’ students at Vanier Secondary.
“We did a lifeskills program. That’s another connection with here (Riding Society).”
At times, she sees former and current students at the riding centre at the exhibition grounds — the same location of Vancouver Island MusicFest.
“I haven’t missed one,” Wheeler said of the annual, multi-day music festival. “It’s just great. It’s fun. Once you get to know lots of people, it’s like having a party and not having to host it. You just go around and chat to people and get caught up on their lives.”
For several years Wheeler has been having a great time singing with the Celebration Singers, a non-auditioned concert choir consisting of more than 90 members.
“It’s a highlight each week,” Wheeler said.
Another passion is keeping fit by gardening and hiking. She also takes fitness classes offered by Courtenay Recreation.
Wheeler is also busy selling tickets for a 50/50 draw to raise funds for the society. The grand prize is up to $25,000, depending on ticket sales.
Tickets are $10. The draw date is March 18.