Harriett Schloer is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in being a Rotarian.
I clearly remember the day in October 1995 that I became a Rotarian. I had looked forward to becoming a member for quite some time. People join Rotary for many reasons, such as fellowship, friendship, networking, and service. For me it was all about service. My husband has been a Rotarian since 1977 and our entire family has worked with himon many Rotary service projects. I enjoyed my work as a Rotary spouse but wanted to be a Rotarian in my own right.
I was very proud to finally wear my Rotary pin.
In 1998, Walt and I attended our first Rotary International Convention. While there, we learned of The Rotary Foundation’s creation of the Children’s Opportunities Grants. The purpose of the grants was to save children’s lives and improve the lives of needy children. Hearing about these new grants was a “light bulb” moment for me. We live in Deschutes County, Oregon, which in 1998 had one of the lowest childhood immunization rates in the US, with less than forty-two percent of our children being fully immunized. Newborns, children in preschool, and school-age children were not getting the required immunizations and there was a complete lack of “herd immunity” in the schools, opening the opportunity for a potential epidemic.
I learned this when I was asked to serve as the Rotary representative on the Deschutes County Immunization Coalition (DCIC) and attended my first meeting. The coalition was seeking a way to reverse those statistics but there was no money to put together a program. The DCIC was asked to come up with a program and get it funded. When I heard about the Children’s Opportunities Grants, I knew I had found the funding; we just needed to create a program. The application for the “Rotary Shots for Tots” free immunization program was submitted to The Rotary Foundation in October 1998, and, in December 1998, the Rotary Club of Bend received a $25,000 Children’s Opportunities Grant to launch the program.
Shots for Tots and childhood immunizations are one of my passions, as is Rotary’s mission for the global eradication of polio. In 2009, I wrote an OpEd for the Bend Bulletin that focused on the growing trend of parents not immunizing their children. I wrote about the fear that gripped entire nations when there were no vaccines and an outbreak of polio or measles or another disease occurred. For me, there is no logical reason to not immunize children. It makes no sense. It is a potential waste of the life of a child. I know that the choice many young parents are making today to not vaccinate their children could eventually lead to needless, preventable illness, and even death. They have grown up in a time where they have never been witness to an epidemic that causes death or crippling. They believe that immunizations are no longer necessary because epidemics do not exist (at least not in the United States). They do not understand that potential infection is merely a plane ride away and the only sure protection is immunization. The Shots for Tots program is about saving children’s lives at no cost to their families, while at the same time making families fully aware of the importance of childhood immunizations.
Rotary could not do the Shots for Tots program alone. It had to be a community partnership between the seven Rotary clubs of Deschutes County, and all of the members of the DCIC (our DCIC members are from the public, private, service, medical, and educational sectors in our county). All seven clubs were on board, and the DCIC unanimously approved the program. More than 500 Rotary, medical, and community volunteers were recruited and trained. The media promoted the program and kept the free clinics at the forefront. PSAs on radio and TV told the importance of childhood immunizations. Immunization information was everywhere! During the first two years of the program our clinics were overwhelmed. Our message was being heard. Children were getting vaccinated. Shots for Tots was a huge success!
Since May of 1999, we have had 168 free clinics in four communities and more than 16,000 children have been immunized. Now in its 15th year, the program has become a Rotary model for community partnerships and has been replicated in three other Oregon counties and numerous Rotary Districts in the United States. Since 2002, Deschutes County has consistently ranked 2nd or 3rd in Oregon. The total value of the in-kind services donated by our partners is more than $6.3 million, not including the value of the thousands of volunteer hours.
Rotary has a belief in the “Power of One.” Everything we do in Rotary starts with an idea from a single individual. By working together, that idea becomes a reality and, if it’s significant enough, it will grow. Shots for Tots symbolizes the “Power of One” and, as a Rotarian, I was able to use that power and partner with others to help improve the lives of thousands of children. With Rotary’s help, we changed the way our county looks at health care not just for children but for everyone. I am very proud to be a Rotarian and I am honored and humbled to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change.
Harriett Schloer is the founder and Executive Director of Central Oregon Rotary Shots for Tots. She serves as the Rotary District 5110 Domestic Immunization Chair and the District 5110 PolioPlus Chair. She created the Pennies for Polio program in District 5110 in 2010 and in 2012 launched the PolioPlus Society. Since 2009, she has helped raise $485,000 for polio eradication in the district.