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Unsung heroes in Oxford Hills
OXFORD HILLS — Most people might be unpleasantly surprised to hear that there is a group in the Oxford Hills area which is dedicated to driving a species to extinction from the planet.
It becomes a little more palatable, however, when one understands that the group in question is the Rotary Club, and the species is the organism poliovirus, which is responsible for the crippling disease polio.
Dan Allen, who describes himself as an "almost-charter member and member of the board," says that the Oxford Hills Chapter of the Rotary Club, founded in 1983, has been active in the global battle.
"Polio is a terrible scourge of the world," said Allen. "In the US, we are fortunate enough to consider it no big deal. However, in terms of the world, polio has been a huge deal. The only thing that kept it from not being a big deal was getting a vaccine to enough children so that wild polio has no place to land."
Polio was once a widespread problem in 125 nations.
The World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the March of Dimes have been worldwide leaders in the battle against polio. In 1988, the WHO announced a goal of worldwide eradication, and in 1994, polio was declared to have been eliminated from the Americas.
"In the 1980s the Rotary International envisioned that as a possibility, and we are almost there," said Allen. "Back then, we thought $180 million might do it. Well, it ain't done it, but we're almost there. "
In 2009, the number of cases had shrunk to 1,600 worldwide, and polio remained endemic in only four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, according to information presented by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
The Rotary Club continues to raise money to supply vaccinations to combat the disease.
"Every year, the RI asks the individual clubs 'will you support the fight against polio to the tune of such-and-such an amount?'"said Allen. "These are not mandatory or dictated. They are requests. Our club will generally meet all those requests."
Allen says that the Rotary Club, which raises approximately $50,000 each year through private fund-raising efforts, has its fingers in all sorts of charity pies in the area.
"We give six or eight scholarships every year," he said. "We do a project we're very proud of called 'student of the month.' We also support, in one way or another, REACH, the Special Olympics, Christmas for Teens, Christmas for Tots, Christmas for Kids, the food pantry, a local dictionary project for elementary school children, and Camp Sunshine. You name it, we have probably supported it in one way or another."
The club's membership has hovered around 40 in recent years, says Allen. Some members have just joined, such as local business leader Rob Armstrong, while other members, such as Frank Shorey, have yards of experience. In fact, Shorey just received an award for 26 years of perfect attendance.
Allen says that one of the most distinctive features of the club is its ability to work with people from all walks of life.
"Rotary is nonsectarian, non-religious, non-nationality, non-anything. and we go out of our way to stay that way," said Allen. "There is probably no other organization in the world that can be receiving, in the left hand, $300 million from Bill Gates and, on the right hand, be negotiating with the Taliban and explaining that it is okay to vaccinate the children because this is about help, and not about anything else."
26 YEARS OF SERVICE — Frank Shorey receives an award from Joelle Corey-Whitman, president of the Oxford Hills Rotary Club, for 26 years of perfect attendance. The club allows members to make up missed meetings, or attend meetings at chapters elsewhere in the world, which has helped Shorey to maintain his perfect record.