Posted by Cynthia Denbo on Apr 01, 2017
Jerry and Marty prepare for the drive to Mexico.
Deano and Marty hand over the keys to the ambulance.
This month, the Rotary Club of Southwest Eureka celebrates its birthday.  On March 22, 1969, its official Charter Day,  the club was formally established.  Each of its twenty founding members came from the venerable Rotary Club of Eureka and brought with them a commitment to form an organization that would build goodwill and better friendships and that would, above all, better our community.   As 48 candles burned on the virtual birthday cake last week—and yes, there absolutely was a virtual birthday cake, guaranteed club President Roland Johnson—the 75 member club looked back with satisfaction at projects planned, organized and completed during the life of the club, even as planning and organization continue on ongoing projects. 
“A roster of the organizations that we have supported, the many dozens of projects that we have developed, mirrors the critical challenges of our times,” said Johnson.  “Projects that have addressed literacy, health and wellness, the environment, support for young entrepreneurs, education, at-risk children, hunger and food insecurity, seniors, and more—we have, through one project and one effort at a time, worked to improve our Eureka community and, through our international projects, to better lives in other parts of the world.”
The club's most recently-completed project is a good example of Rotarian action, according to Johnson.  The project is a story of people helping people they will never meet.  A story of Rotary Club of Southwest Eureka members with a plan, the will, the energy, the commitment to making that plan a reality.  A story that has its roots in a tiny Mexican fishing village.
Boca de Tomatlan is a small fishing town nestled on the west coast of Mexico.  With a population of fewer than 600 people, it is a hub for six fishing villages bordering the coastline. Though only 16 miles from Puerto Vallerta, it takes one hour to reach medical care, a drive that has been, until very recently, made with the ill and injured traveling in the back of a pickup truck along a winding two-lane dirt road.  The need for villagers to reach Puerto Vallerta hospitals quickly and safely was critical.  Options were limited.
The problem was readily understood—not complicated but not easy: find transportation to save lives.  Thirteen months later, problem solved.  The solution would involve two countries, several towns, American and Mexican Rotarians, a collection of Mexican and American bureacracies, and the critical generosity of a Eureka business. 
It would begin with Lewis Quinby, Southwest Eureka Rotarian who, in the 1990s, conceived the annual Festival of Brotherhood to bring Guadalajara and Eureka Rotarians together to develop projects in Mexico.  
It would feature Dean Charlton, another member of the Rotary Club of Southwest Eureka, who grew up in Mexico, attended all of the Festival of Brotherhood gatherings and has been instrumental in many of its projects.  Through his relationships with Mexican Rotarians, he learned of the transportation needs in Boca de Tomatlan, developed a plan and served as Project Coodinator. 
The solution hinged on the donation of an ambulance by City Ambulance of Eureka, this generosity facilitated by fellow Rotarian Dan Brown. 
Rotary Club of South Ukiah auto shop owner Salvador Rico played a key role.  He had connected with Charlton at a Festival of Brotherhood gathering and agreed to work on the vehicle in his spare time to repair and refurbish it and get required smog certification. 
Ignacio Palmoerna, member of the Puerto Vallerta Rotary and another Festival of Brotherhood alumnus, took on the challenges of completing the appropriate paperwork required by the Mexican government, a process that, due to repeated regulatory changes, took ten months to complete. 
Marty Lay and Jerry Colivas, Jr,  Southwest Eureka Rotarians, joined Dean Charlton in a convoy, driving to Los Angeles to deliver the vehicle to Palmoerna. 
Changing documentation requirements eventually led to lengthy engagements with U.S. Customs, State Board of Equalization, Immigration Department of Mexico, and the Department of Motor Vehicles.  “We're trying to donate, to do a good thing here,” said Charlton, “but the various bureaucracies did not make it easy.”  After several days of negotiation, online searches for information conducted by Rotarians in Eureka, and a frustration of paperwork the ambulance finally crossed the border at Tijuana in mid-February. 
Now, Boca de Tomatlan and six neighboring towns—more than 9000 people—have transportation for sick and injured villagers to Puerto Vallarta hospitals for treatment.  People will be helped. Lives will be saved.
“Was it easy?  No. Frustrating?  Sometimes.  Worth the time and effort|?  Absolutely,” said Charlton. 
Service Above Self is the motto of Rotary.  And Roland Johnson believes that the Mexico Ambulance Project, so recently and successfully completed, is a fine example of service above self, of the real life meaning of the Rotarian motto.  Rotarians working with others—with individuals and businesses, with Rotarians and non-Rotarians, in Eureka and in other parts of our state, country, and world—and making good things happen.  “It's the Rotary way,” he said. “And it makes this year's birthday celebration that much sweeter.”