Women on the COVID Front Lines: Cheri Franklin, handyDART Driver

In honour of International Women’s Day, and in partnership with the BC Gender Equity Office, I’m sharing Women on the COVID Front Lines, profiles of women in British Columbia working to serve the needs of their communities through the pandemic.

Cheri Franklin has been driving handyDART in Kamloops for 12 years and the people she supports rely on her experience, dedication and compassion. Many would not otherwise be able to access medical appointments or essential trips. And for Cheri the job means so much more, as on any given day she’s everything from a driver, friend, counsellor and listener.

As a woman working in the transportation field, being seen as an equal has not always been easy. In many ways, Cheri finds this has also been insightful in terms of how the elderly and people with disabilities must sometimes feel. Cheri says, “everyone is equal in their own right and we all can learn so much if we just open our hearts to accept each person for who they are and what they have to offer,” especially since all woman, including trans women and LGBTQ2S+ people, have a lifetime of amazing accomplishments and stories to tell.

Cheri reflects on the fact she’s worked very hard to get where she is now. She entered the workforce as a young single mother of two, with neither a diploma or a degree. She is also a survivor of domestic abuse. She started out cleaning up after fires and floods, and cleaning houses and commercial buildings. Then she began driving, semi-trucks at first and now handyDART buses, which has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.

Today, while there are many women at Cheri’s worksite, the opportunities to bring in more women still remain. Pushing her career forward is important to Cheri, not just for herself but also to pave the way for her girls.

Like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic has showed Cheri that as a society, kindness, patience, love and, most of all, companionship are what keeps us going as human beings. Cheri has been told she has an innate ability to bring people together and be their voice. If there is an issue, she will get the bottom of it and find a solution. Especially in a crisis, women have an ability to work together and brainstorm like no other force.

While the stress of the pandemic has been wearing on everyone as a society, many women have stepped up more than normal with work, children and household chores. Cheri knows that she’s always been strong but has learned recently to lean on friends for support in a whole new way. Realizing that she doesn’t need to bear everything on her own has even made her stronger.

As a survivor of domestic abuse, Cheri also expresses concern for an increase in violence during the pandemic for women housebound with an abuser. Cheri encourages women facing violence to seek help and know that they can enter the workforce and feel safe there. For people facing or leaving violence, being a part of the workforce also means financial independence and recovery.

Cheri stands up for what is right and shows support for people when no one else will. Cheri is determined to be treated equally and make a difference for others. For young people starting out on their career, Cheri says, “don’t let anyone steal your fire and listen to your gut.” We can do so much when we set our minds in a positive and generative direction, she adds, do not wait to do whatever it is you choose to do.

We acknowledge Cheri, the people she supports in her job, her family and friends for being there for each other, sharing inspiration and never giving up. Thank you, Cheri!