Removing barriers is the main focus of the Aboriginal-owned and operated Four Winds Driving School that now has a permanent home in Williams Lake.
“My background is in life skills and social work,” owner Kerry Chelsea said during the school’s grand opening.
“I’ve run into a lot of community members with learning disabilities, whether it be higher functioning Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) or reading comprehension. I’m not a therapist, but I’ve been able to identify some of their learning disabilities and work with those individuals one-on-one.”
There are many success stories of high-functioning FASD students obtaining their Class Five driver’s licence, Chelsea said.
“It’s been fantastic. Being able to do that has probably been the most rewarding for me.”
The school is located at 77B Second Ave North.
It boasts a classroom and will soon have a state-of-the art driving simulator on site.
Chelsea is a band councillor in his home community of Esket and said he pursued becoming a driving instructor after realizing that many community members did not have a driver’s licence.
“At first Esket hired an instructor out of Prince George, but we only had one successful learner’s permit out of 15 people that had gone through the program,” he recalled. “The cost was about $14,000 and as a band we couldn’t afford that.”
About two and a half years ago, Chelsea approached Chief Charlene Belleau suggesting someone be trained as a driving instructor to teach in the community.
“Chief Charlene smiled and said, ‘you’re going to Victoria to get your instructor licence,’ so that’s how it started,” Chelsea said.
After completing the instructor’s course in Kelowna, he went to Vancouver to obtain his graduated licensing program training and then registered the driving school officially with ICBC.
Initially Chelsea used an old Esketemc band vehicle, in which he installed an instructor brake and mirrors, and worked on a volunteer basis teaching drivers in the community.
When other First Nations bands started hearing about the program, they called Chelsea to come and instruct some of their community members as well.
Eventually he became so busy trying to balance his daytime jobs with the driving instruction on the side, that Shea reeled him in and said he needed to apply for a business license.
“We went ahead and applied for a First Nations federal business grant and once that came back approved — after four or five tries — we picked this location and decided to move forward with it,” Chelsea said.
One of the biggest barriers for First Nations people is access so Four Winds goes into the communities to teach the learner’s program.
“That way a lot of the membership doesn’t have to travel,” Chelsea said.
“To come from Ulkatcho to Williams Lake is a four-hour drive. We bring everything and there’s no excuse for people not to attend because the program is so close to where they live.”
Money can also be a barrier so the school provides the cost of the learner’s program, he added.
As one, if not the only, 100 per cent Aboriginal fully-owned and operated driving schools in B.C, and one of only a few Aboriginal-owned businesses in Williams Lake it’s exciting, Chelsea said.
“I didn’t really think about that until a friend brought that up to me today at our open house.”