Prince Rupert reigned in the provincial media the week of March 14 when members of the community, lead by local Northern Health staff pulled together a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic with just a narrow five-day window for organization.
The physical clinic operations immunized more than 8,500 residents and workers in nine days, far short of the originally planned two-week period. Overall the community-whole vaccination was a tremendous success. Even Premier John Horgan said the municipality has set the bar and leads the example of how it should be done.
More than 400 volunteers came together from Prince Rupert and neighbouring Port Edward to support and assist the Northern Health and BC CDC medical staff with injecting not just virus vaccine but community spirit into the whole endeavour, Julia Pemberton, health services administrator for Northern Health, said.
“We wouldn’t have been able to be successful without our volunteers. We had 12 volunteers on per shift, with four shifts per day,” she said.
What is phenomenal to her is the essence of Prince Rupert she has seen in the less than three years she has chosen the community as her home.
“What I saw was Prince Rupert specifically is a community that rallies behind these types of things, and people show up,” Pemberton said. “I think the interesting thing is that we had 72 hours, and that’s how many volunteers we found in that time. We didn’t do any public recruiting.”
Timing is also believed to be an ingredient for the successful recipe. With the clinic being organized during school spring break availability was more open for many. Numerous volunteers came from the school district, with staff and senior students both volunteering. Prince Rupert Rotary and Northern Saving Credit Union also helped with volunteer numbers.
Pemberton said COVID-19 has a lot to answer for. While the purpose of the clinic was to eradicate and temper the transmission of the coronavirus, COVID-19 added its own contribution to the success because people are eager to volunteer after being housebound for the past year.
“There’s been very few volunteer opportunities in the community. So people have the energy. People have the time. People had the commitment to come out. Without COVID, I think it would have been different because there’s there would have been way more different causes and events that people were volunteering for.”
Ana Rowse is one of the relentless volunteers who showed up every day of the clinic to offer her time and heart to help with the safety and comfort of her fellow citizens.
Showing her thoughtfulness for others around her, Rowse would volunteer for the evening shifts. She said this allowed parents to be at home with their families during the later hours of the day so they could eat dinner as a family and spend time together for nightly family practices.
Living all of her life in Prince Rupert, except the first four years before her family emigrated from a village in Croatia, Ana has been a Rotarian for many years even being Rotary President for a while. Volunteering and supporting community is at her very core. She said she is not at all surprised there were so many volunteers.
“It’s really because the community and the people being rural and remote, just really rely on one another,” she said. “I really think also that I have a lot in common coming from a village atmosphere to a First Nations territory where everything is connected. We need to be in this together. While Dr. Bonnie Henry coined the phrase, that is how the First Nations live.”
Ana said she strongly believes that if communities follow the traditional teachings of the First Nations, then we would all be in better shape.
“We have to take care of one another. Everything and everyone is connected. With Rotary, it’s a life of service — And I find that is the spirit in Print Rupert. I don’t know of anyone who has a closed-door to anyone else. That’s really unique. In bigger cities, you just don’t have that.”
Ana believes while everything is connected, life is also about service to others.
“It’s a life of service. And it just, it’s so important to give back,” Ana said.
She expressed her gratefulness for the situation of her own family, while recognizing that others have not had the same experiences.
“We have been so fortunate not to have missed work, or had financial issues or (been affected by) the shuttering, or illness. In those situations, you just have to be blessed and thankful and give back. It’s just so important.”
Ana said because we have all been living in our ‘bubbles’ for so long, it can often go unrealized how other people are feeling or to what level their feelings may run.
“I’ve volunteered every day and to see everyone just so happy and relieved — I’ve experienced people who are crying with relief because they are one of the 6% in Canada that are being immunized (as of the news today). You don’t realize because we’ve all been in our bubbles.”
Rowse said her volunteering outlook is aided by her studies in First Nations Education. She is currently working on her Ph.D.
“My thesis is about incorporating the aspects of village and my experience with my village and why I have so much in common or such respect for the First Nations because I see such an affinity with their way of living to our ancient of ways as well. So that’s really about incorporating the aspect of holistic education in our classrooms.”
Her volunteering has the same village approach.
“So it really is back to the need to understand that we are all part of something greater,” she said. “And if we don’t hold each other up, and if each of us doesn’t do our role or assigned role, then we won’t be successful.”
Several volunteers, when asked by The Northern View to speak about their volunteering efforts declined an interview, more than often with comments such as: “I’m just nobody in this whole process,” or “there are better people to speak to than me.”
When asked about the response many of the volunteers displayed during the immunization clinics, Ana said it just speaks to the humility of the residents.
“It speaks to how humble everyone is in their service, in that they’re just doing a small piece. But what they don’t realize is every pebble causes a ripple and impacts the entire community,” Rowse said. “And I love that they are that humble about it. That is the core of service. It’s not about you. You’re here to serve. I think it’s the richest thing in a human’s world, that right to do that, and do it from a place of the heart.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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