Powell River’s ORCA Bus is in the running for a prize that could net the mobile play-based learning centre up to $100,000 in upgrades, but it needs the public’s support to win, according to Success By 6 coordinator Beth Zroback.
The ORCA Bus, which stands for “On the Road with Children’s Activities,” is a partnership between the United Way, School District 47 and Success By 6. It was chosen as a finalist in BCAA’s Play Here contest from among hundreds of province-wide applicants.
The learning centre on wheels has become a well-known sight throughout the community since a local couple donated the decommissioned school bus in 2009. The programs it provides are different from those of other learning buses, said Zroback.
“It is unique to Powell River,” she added. “Other communities have literacy buses but there isn’t another bus as far as I know, in all of BC, that does play-based learning and has partnerships with the school district, United Way, and we have Inclusion [Powell River] on board, and the library.”
A community effort and the dedication of many volunteers, including its bus drivers, is required to operate the bus and program. Don Edwards, a retired millworker, was the first driver to volunteer for the program. The inaugural journey on the bus was a memorable one, he said.
“The first trip was to Stillwater, the top of the hill,” said Edwards. “It was snowing and we drove up this long, skinny driveway. At the top I got hung up on a stump and we had to back all the way down. We all had a really good laugh as that was our first outing.”
Since that time, Edwards has been part of a crew of volunteers who help keep the bus on the road and travelling from Saltery Bay to Lund to Texada Island.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s worth the time to volunteer for this,” he said. “The purpose of this bus is to reach the people who aren’t able to go to a daycare or a program in the recreation complex, and to integrate kids before they go to kindergarten so they get to share and play together. It’s been really successful.”
The geography and size of the upper Sunshine Coast region is part of what makes this travelling learning centre such a needed service, said Zroback.
“Powell River is so big and the region is so spread out,” she said. “So many families are passionate about the ORCA Bus because it’s their only source of connection.”
This connection includes valuable learning and interaction for children under age six as well as the opportunity for parents to meet other parents and educators.
The bus is getting rusty and is in need of some serious upgrades, said Zroback. The hope is to purchase a smaller bus that does not have air brakes, to get more indoor and outdoor equipment and increase the number of trips on the summer schedule, she added.
Since the ORCA Bus arrived, the program has become a lifeline for many parents and children throughout the region, providing socialization, interaction, learning and fun.
“Because of our landscape,” said Zroback, “this is an essential service for young families.”
As of Thursday, June 7, Powell River’s ORCA bus is trailing seven other nominees in eighth place out of ten finalists in the BCAA Play Here contest with 6,910 votes. 12 days remain to increase this number and crack the top-three needed for a win.
Voting can be done online until June 17, and each individual can vote up to four times per day by email and on different internet platforms, including Facebook, Google and Twitter. To vote, go to bcaaplayhere.com.