Rotary Initiated Child Enrichment (RICE)
In 2002, Rotarian John Boone took to heart the message delivered to the Rotary Club of Kingston by Dr. Mustard, a McMaster University professor who authored a report to the Ontario government on the benefits of Early Childhood programs. Dr. Mustard made it clear how important it was to give children a head start on their schooling.
John and his committee were dedicated to developing programs in Kingston that reflected the full intent of this early childhood report. The committee was called RICE: Rotary Initiated Child Enrichment and it launched several programs to help young children and their families.
A Library Card in Every Hand: With the assistance of public libraries and the public and separate school boards, every grade 1 student received a library card. The program also funded 50 percent of the cost of field trips for the students to go and discover libraries and to receive their cards. More than 5,000 library cards were issued during this program.
Jim Frid Book Distribution Program: This program, named after a Kingston pediatrician and a former member of our club, started in 2005. Dr. Frid believed literacy was the right of every child; it gave them hope and a head start. The program’s goal was to get new books into the hands of children, in particular children of low income families.
The books were initially distributed through non-profit agencies and pediatric centres. Then, in 2018, we established a relationship with First Book Canada. In addition to the original partner agencies, we distribute new books through schools in Kingston and surrounding areas. Teachers provide the books for students to take home, ensuring every child has at least one book they can call their own. Since its inception, Rotarians have distributed nearly 100,000 books to Kingston children.
Gifts for Mom: Rotarian Adrienne Brown started this program at the Boys & Girls Club. Rotarians donate small gifts, usually jewelry, that children can “buy” for their moms in time for Mother’s Day. The gifts cost pennies (literally) for the kids to buy, but their excitement is priceless.
Food For Thought: Margaret Merkley, wife of Rotarian Peter, coordinated a program for the Partners in Mission Food Bank to include a new children's book in the family food hampers. This project and its success made the pages of Rotary International’s monthly magazine.
Kid Knit: Led by Honorary Rotarian, Jeanne Ferguson, seniors in the community knit mitts, scarves, sweaters and hats for children’s winter wear. Jeanne passed away in 2015, but the program continues. To date, hundreds of beautiful quality items have been distributed. Our club donates the yarn, and the seniors provide their creative talents.
The overall impact of RICE on young children in Kingston is profound. As founder John Boone observed: "I appreciate the commitment of our partners and Rotarians for all they do to make life better for children."