When I was a kid growing up poor in northern B.C., our family was fond of one very over-used four letter “f” word — free. My brothers and sisters and I were taught early not to ask for many of the things other youngsters took for granted.
Instead we wore a path to the local public library. You could take out four books at a time, and unless you were careless and didn’t get them back in time, there was no cost.
In the winter we spent a lot of time outdoors. Too bad if it was cold; our mother needed some peace and quiet, and with a brood the size of ours, indoor fun was an oxymoron. Besides, we could skate on the lot a neighbour flooded with our cheap secondhand skates, or we could toboggan down a hill with cardboard for a sleigh if need be — all magically free.
In the summer, we haunted the local man-made lake — a giant pool that, unlike the local outdoor pool run by the city, never cost us a cent to use. There was a big sign at that free park: “This is a project of the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek.” At the time it didn’t mean a lot to us; after all, we were kids and all we wanted was to spend some time in the water for free.
I thought about that pool last week when I was asked what it is that Rotary does, and why am I a Rotarian.
The list of things Rotary does in this world is amazing. We basically find a need and fill it.
Some of the things Rotary does are small in the grand scheme of things. We advocate for literacy in far-flung parts of B.C. Steven Point, the immediate past lieutenant governor of our province, a First Nations man from the Skowkale First Nation, recognized the value of literacy for children growing up on reserves. In a fortuitous turn of events, Point’s aide-de-camp, Bob Blacker, was the district governor of Rotary around the time Point took office. A strong alliance was formed that resulted in a Rotary initiative to build libraries and stock books wherever they were needed. Without Rotary’s help, it’s doubtful that would have happened.
Rotary is also well known for the role it has played in eradicating polio worldwide. Because of the impeccable management of all donations received and the reputation Rotary has of being non-political and non-denominational, the Bill Gates Foundation has partnered with the organization to eliminate polio in our lifetime. And as the ads say, “We’re this close.” (Put your thumb and forefinger an inch apart to visualize this.) With only 268 new cases of polio confirmed last year, the vaccination program is working. For the many who escaped the disease, that means not being ostracized in their communities or living with insurmountable pain.
Locally it’s hard to ignore the Rotary logo. It’s on the park at the waterfront, the washrooms in Davis Bay, the dressing rooms at the Sechelt Arena, Brothers Park in Gibsons, herring nets in Pender Harbour, and many more locations. We’ve worked to make the hospice more comforting, the SPCA more attractive and Trout Lake more accessible. And right now the four clubs on the Coast are working together to make six rooms in the addition to St. Mary’s Hospital state of the art.
So just what does Rotary do?
We change the world.