Entrepreneur drives to improve quality of life

Marina Kuznetsov was faced with a conundrum.

The West Vancouver resident wanted her mother to emigrate from her native Belarus and join her here in Canada. Her mother had other plans. She did what any person who’s set in their ways might have done: she refused to budge.

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“My mom at that time lived in Belarus and she refused to move to Canada,” Kuznetsov tells the North Shore News. “I kind of felt guilty. My sister was with her, but I still felt like I needed to do something.”

Kuznetsov was saddened that her mother couldn’t join her here, but she also understood. Moving is never easy, and for an older adult living more than 8,000 kilometres away immigrating to Canada might have been all but impossible.

Kuznetsov took that initial feeling of guilt and tried to channel it into something positive.

“I decided that taking care of seniors would be a good thing,” she says.

In 2013, she purchased a franchise called Driving Miss Daisy, a service that aims to improve the quality of life for seniors, families, or people living with mobility, visual and cognitive challenges by providing them with accompaniment and personal transportation.

The services aren’t provided free-of-charge, but that doesn’t dampen Kuznetsov’s passion for helping people in the community stay connected and get to where they need to go.

She was recently nominated in the Best Immigrant Entrepreneur category in the upcoming 15th annual Small Business BC Awards for her efforts during the last few years.

More than 600 businesses province-wide received nominations for this year’s awards, including 40 semi-finalists from around the Greater Vancouver area, according to a news release from Small Business BC.

Kuznetsov will find out if her Driving Miss Daisy franchise takes home the award in her category when the winners are officially announced in February.

Buoyed by her desire a few years back to connect with seniors and older adults, Kuznetsov says she was driving one day when she noticed a passing vehicle emblazoned with the Driving Miss Daisy branding and her interest was instantly piqued.

“I decided right away to buy it,” she says.

Marina Kuznetsov sits behind the wheel of one of her Driving Miss Daisy fleet - photo supplied

Her franchise is based out of Lower Lonsdale and serves North and West Vancouver, as well as parts of Vancouver and Burnaby.

While in large part the Driving Miss Daisy focus is on helping people that might have mobility issues get from place to place, Kuznetsov says the bonds go deeper.

Her and her staff of 11 employees can act as liaisons between medical staff and families, provide companionship to people living with Alzheimer’s, or just be there to share conversation.

“There are very happy moments and sometimes there are very sad moments. The sad moments are when families stop taking care of their parents,” she says.

“I do understand people are busy and they do hire us to help their parents and that is a different story – that means they do care. But I’ve met people that live by themselves (and) I was very surprised – when they have children – and you open the fridge and it’s empty.”

She says the best moments, the happy moments, are when her staff and the people in the communities they support build strong bonds. “That is so amazing,” she says.

The Best Immigrant Entrepreneur Award is supposed to recognize an outstanding new Canadian who has started a successful business in B.C. The individual is expected to have overcome adversity and exhibited leadership in the community.

Kuznetsov explains how when she and her husband, both educated as electrical engineers, came to Canada from Belarus in 2000, she was quickly hit with a roadblock that would be challenging for anyone, let alone someone new to the country.

“In my case, when I came to Canada in 2000, in six months I was diagnosed with cancer. It took me two years to battle it and recover,” she says. “When you do some procedures like chemotherapy you talk to people, and I was amazed. I was amazed with people because, well, I was basically dying and then I just said: ‘No way. I came to Canada to die? No way.’”

There had been challenges back home, too. Belarus’s President Lukashenko was an oppressive dictator; the Ukrainian Chernobyl disaster in the mid 1980s caused health and safety repercussions back in Belarus as well. Kuznetsov and her husband were ready to move elsewhere.

In Canada, Kuznetsov got sick, but then she got better. She lumbered on. She says that besides helping people in the community through Driving Miss Daisy, she also wants to be there for recent immigrants, especially women, who are new to Canada.

“I have a group on Facebook for Russian-speaking women and a business club,” she says. “We share all the stories. That’s what I want – I want people to find their home.”

She says that by interacting with people through Driving Miss Daisy she’s learned to live in the moment more.

She talks about one client who speaks four languages and recently shared with her a book that he had written. The things you learn from talking with people are staggering, she says.

She also talks about a 101-year-old North Shore client who plays bridge three times a week. Her spirit inspires Kuznetsov.

“She enjoys every moment. We do not enjoy that. We think we will enjoy tomorrow, tomorrow. There is no tomorrow, there is only today. That’s the philosophy I found in my job,” she said.

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