While the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation, postponement or rejigging of many events and projects, Rotarians have not been deterred, finding innovative solutions and cooperative workarounds that enable them to continue their work.
Bruce Healy, a Canadian Snowbird, had begun 2020 as a member of the San Carlos Rotary Club in Mexico when the pandemic struck. Taking up residence in Parksville, and with no immediate prospect of returning to his winter home in Mexico, he became a member of the Rotary Club of Parksville AM while still maintaining connections with the San Carlos Club, particularly the progress of its work on the El Cobijo senior’s complex.
Meanwhile, the Rotary Club of Parksville AM was experiencing similar fallout from the pandemic as its annual building trip to Mexico had to be cancelled. Bruce connected with the Club’s International Chair, Jo Dunn, and a new partnership between Parksville AM and the Rotary Club of San Carlos was formed through a donation of $2500US toward the El Cobijo renovation.
El Cobijo is a home for indigent seniors in San Jose, Sonora, Mexico. Coincidentally, it is across the Sea of Cortez from the Baja where Parksville AM Rotarians, working with the non-profit organization, Live Different, have carried out building projects since 2014.
As is the case in most parts of Mexico, there are many elderly men and women in need of housing and related support. Prospective residents of El Cobijo must meet three tests: be at least 70 years of age, be homeless and be indigent. There is a long waiting list for new residents, and as such, there has been an urgent need to expand the capacity.
The home was established in 1983 by local Catholic priests. The property is dear to the heart of Oscar Gonzales Garcia, who was an altar boy in the Church while growing up, spent much time assisting with maintenance of the building, and has been Manager of the home since 2017.
In August 2009, the home was severely damaged by Hurricane Jimena, and a large portion of the building was rendered uninhabitable. While the home continued to operate on a basic level through support from government and private donations, funds were not available to restore the physical complex and accommodate more people in need.
The San Carlos Rotary Club was founded in 1985 and consists primarily of English-speaking winter season homeowners, as well as a core group of permanent residents. In addition, there are many “visiting” Rotarians, who make their permanent homes in the U.S. or Canada, but contribute significantly to Club initiatives when they are in town.
In early 2020, the Rotary Club of San Carlos began a fundraising campaign to repair the complex and increase its capacity from the existing 20 seniors to a maximum of 48 men and women by full completion. Unfortunately, the Covid outbreak forced the cancellation of the Club’s three major fundraising events and obliged many members, including all those from Canada, to stay home.
The El Cobijo project was initiated by a long-term Rotary member and past Club President, Steve Riedel, whose primary home is in Edina, Minnesota. Steve is renowned for his boundless energy and determination.
The building consists of three connected wings, two of which have been unusable since the 2009 hurricane. A plan was developed to complete the total restoration in three phases, with a budget of approximately $158,000.
The first phase of the project, at the cost of $32,500 US, focused on repairing one of the undeveloped wings so that additional seniors could be accommodated as quickly as possible. For the first time, an adequate heating and cooling system was added, and upgraded kitchen appliances installed in the center core.
Significant upgrades were also made to the building structure, including new exterior windows, several of which had been missing altogether and upgrading to the exterior and courtyard.
This phase is now complete, and more
residents are being welcomed. Due to extreme need, occupancy had already increased to 28 by the beginning of 2021, and the new residents will bring the total to 36.
Now on to Phases 2 and 3. Phase 2 will focus on repairing the second unoccupied wing as was done in Phase 1 and upgrading the electrical wiring and sanitary sewage system.
Phase 3 will carry on with improvements to the total complex, waterproofing the roof and installing new tiling. Ideally, Phase 3 will also
include the development of a physical rehabilitation centre.
With the demise of traditional fundraising events, securing funds has been a challenge. Funds for Phase 1 were raised by reaching out to San Carlos Rotary members (most of whom were not in San Carlos at the time), other local organizations and individuals, and to Rotary Clubs and Districts across Mexico and North America. Through this outreach effort, sufficient funds were raised to complete Phase 1, with some modest carry-over for Phase 2.
With his dynamic leadership and boundless enthusiasm, Steve Riedel continues to mobilize resources and forge connections in his quest to complete the project, as is illustrated in the following video:
Rehabilitation of El Cobijo Old Folks Home in San Carlos, Sonora, México. Update March 2021. – YouTube
It has truly been an international effort and a serendipitous way for the Rotary Club of Parksville AM to continue its work in Mexico, albeit in an unforeseen and unexpected manner. The result has been a stellar example of the power of Rotary to unite clubs and districts across borders in support of a worthy cause.