In February of 2020, Parksville AM Rotarians were busily planning their 7th annual house-building mission to Mexico.  With the help of a District 5020 Community Grant (DCG), to be matched by the Club, Rotary Team Mexico was set to build two houses in the struggling community of Padre Keno in the northern Baja. 

Suddenly the pandemic hit, and all thoughts of leaving Canada came to an abrupt halt.

But International Chair, Jo Dunn was undaunted, recognizing the opportunity to turn Club attention to the local community.  He quickly pivoted and, with procedural advice from DCG Coordinator, Bob Zawilski, the Mexico District Grant was cancelled, a new DCG application submitted for a local Covid-19 related project, and a matching grant in the amount of $3000 US obtained.

The initiative gained even more traction when the Rotary Mid Island Group (MIG), a consortium of 23 Rotary clubs and one Rotaract Club on Vancouver Island, advised that applications were being taken for COVID project funding provided by Coastal Community Credit Union.  Parksville AM Rotary applied and was successful in obtaining a matching grant of $1000 CDN.
With funding in place, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Oceanside Building Learning Together.
Since 1999, Oceanside Building Learning Together (OBLT) has strived to build a strong community by offering free literacy programs that engage and meet the needs of community members, from pre-natal to elder.
In 2003, the first Words on Wheels (WOW) bus hit the road, traveling to underserved communities in the Oceanside area bringing Early Learning and literacy programs to families. 

The WOW bus is driven by a team of enthusiastic volunteer bus drivers who share in the passion of accessible free learning.But when the pandemic struck, the wheels of the bus came to an abrupt stop! Judi Malcolm, Manager of OBLT notes:

“As we started planning our program offerings, we were concerned about how we could safely use the WOW bus with Covid-19 protocols, and were thrilled when the Parksville AM Rotary Club approached us to see how they could help.  Covid-19 has presented many challenges, along with financial implications.  Rotary’s support has been a real game changer.”

With funding from Rotary, clear partitions were installed to enable two families to be on the bus at the same time while still offering quality learning experiences.  Photo at left shows the bus interior prior to renovations, while right photo shows the plexiglass partition which enables two families to use the resources on the bus simultaneously.

Big Boy’s Toys, a local business, donated labour and a full community discount on parts for an electric awning, stairs and handrail to promote outdoor play in all kinds of weather.
RV stairs and a gate were placed at the back of the bus for a second access.
To ensure toys could be disinfected and books aired out before being put back into rotation, Rotary helped purchase an additional supply

Responding to families newly vulnerable as a result of Covid-19, OBLT recently launched “OBLT Cares” which began with a grant from the United Way.
Care packages include healthy meal ingredients, easy recipes and special surprises to promote parent-child connection and healthy development. 

Parents are able to pick up these packages at various WOW bus locations, with OBLT staff there to provide emotional support and referrals as needed.   

With the Parksville AM Rotary Club’s support, the program is now being expanded, with care packages tailored to meet the needs of our community’s seniors who have also felt the impact of Covid-19.

A young mom recently said, “My heart is so full - thank you for the care package! I can tell a lot of love was put into it. I really appreciate this.”

With funding partnerships in place, the Club turned its attention to new forms of fundraising, as most of its regular fundraisers had been cancelled due to Covid-19.  The solution – recycling! 

Parksville AM Rotarians began to hold a bottle “drop-off” service every Saturday.  Rotarian Tim Andres donated the use of his Speedy Glass parking lot as a receiving and sorting location. 
The Parksville Bottle Recycling Depot pitched in by supplying bags and picking up the recycling at the end of the day.  And the public responded with great enthusiasm, particularly when they learned that the funds raised would be going to the “WOW” Bus.  Some had visited the bus themselves as children; others included parents or grandparents who came in gratitude to support the program.

Parksville AM members eagerly embraced this fundraiser and, as regular meetings were still not possible at their home resort, this became an opportunity to re-connect with fellow members, their partners and even their children.  Club business has also been conducted during the drives.

Photo shows Rotarian Deidre Michael ( second from the left) receiving her Paul Harris +1 pin from President Bashir El-Khalafawi and Foundation Chair Lynne Pearson during a break from sorting bottles and cans at the weekly Rotary Bottle Drop.

The following quote from our WOW Bus partners says it all:  “We are very grateful to our friends at Rotary for supporting the WOW bus and our food security program.  The modifications and enhancements will be used long after the pandemic is a distant memory yet the families we’ve helped will never forget.”

Photo credits:  Rick Slavin, Photographer and Volunteer Bus Driver