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Children's activity bus program relaunches in Powell River

Return includes adjustments due to COVID-19
ORCA Bus Powell River
ORCA Bus driver Autumn Ennenberg [left] and Chelsea Ballantyne, ORCA Bus coordinator for Powell River and District United Way. Contributed photo

ORCA Bus is back on the road in the Powell River area with new pandemic safeguards in place. The bus is delivering the same preschool activities to families across the region, with some COVID-era adjustments, stated ORCA bus coordinator Chelsea Ballantyne in a media release.

“Like many local services, the ORCA Bus paused its activities in March out of an abundance of caution,” stated Ballantyne. “In the six months since, we’ve been connecting with families on our social media channels while we work with our partners to plan a safe reopening.”

ORCA Bus relaunched during the first week of October with StrongStart programming, offered by School District 47’s Early Years team, and has expanded to include Family Place and other providers. Stops are currently scheduled on weekdays in Powell River parks, with hopes to eventually return to rural areas across the region.

Families who visit the bus will notice a few health and safety-related changes, according to the release. Most notably, families are required to preregister for all activities, and for now, won’t be invited on board. Adults are asked to wear masks and to dress their kids for any weather, rain or shine.

“We’re focusing on outdoor education and programming partly because of COVID-19,” stated Rita John, early learning coordinator for the school district. “Outdoors is considered safe by Dr. Henry and we thought this was a great opportunity to develop our programming with families outdoors, making it safe and a fun thing to do.”

Additional pandemic-era modifications include increased cleaning, a new awning to create a sheltered play area outside, and a staff driver to cover shifts for volunteers, many of whom, as seniors, are at higher risk for illness.

“When kids are working through something scary like COVID-19, they need that continuity and connection,” stated John. “The bus is that normal, fun place. Play hasn’t changed.”

Activities are free for families with children ages newborn to six years old, as long as they preregister.

Temporary funding for the new safety measures was provided through March 2021 by the Community Response Fund, a partnership between Powell River and District United Way, Powell River Community Foundation and First Credit Union. The fund is helping local charities adapt their services for vulnerable populations during COVID-19.

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