By Angela Glore

My family moved to Del Norte (the first time) from the Mojave Desert. We lived at least an hour from anywhere in a glorified truck-stop of a town. It was often 100 degrees before 9:00 in the morning. My husband worked 35 miles away and we owned one car for the first several months we lived there. It was not my very favorite several months of my life.

There was one shining ray of light: Every other Wednesday, for about 45 minutes, the Bookmobile pulled into town from the Needles library. My 1-year-old and I never missed it. Ever.

So we were thrilled when we moved north and discovered the Wonder Bus. We visited it regularly. Back then, the Wonder Bunny lived on board, although it was quite some time before my husband realized it was a real, live rabbit, and not a stuffed toy.

If you currently have a young child, you may have noticed that the Wonder Bus has not been hopping through its regular rounds since the end of September. Recently, I’ve had a lot of concerned questions asking, “Where is the Wonder Bus?”

The answer is this: The Wonder Bus has been in service almost continually for almost 17 years. The outside was getting some rust patches and it was time for a spa vacation to get a full-body polish and a new exterior wrap to protect the bus for years to come. This work is being funded through generous contributions from the Gil H. and Ann Hess Memorial Fund and the All Children Read and Succeed Fund. But like other well-laid plans, this one has gone slightly astray and is taking longer than anticipated.

Never fear. The Wonder Bus will return to service once the work is complete. We will have a party to celebrate her return and show off the new (and very exciting) exterior. We can’t wait to have the bus back on the road, visiting children throughout our county.

In the meantime, we are also reviewing other aspects of the Wonder Bus program. The bus was originally funded through a library grant to expand literacy services beyond the Del Norte County Library’s walls. The grant was a partnership between the library, First 5, and many community partners.

For the past several years, First 5 has been the primary program funder through a contract with the Del Norte Child Care Council for day to day operations. A partnership including the City of Crescent City, Del Norte County, Del Norte Child Care Council, Del Norte County Office of Education, and First 5 contribute annually to a maintenance fund.

For the past two years, the Del Norte County Library has returned as an active partner, providing a contribution to the programming costs. That’s a lot of partners, but what it boils down to is there is tremendous support for the Wonder Bus in our community.

All partners got together last June to talk about the Wonder Bus’ future. During that meeting, we identified a few issues that need to be addressed.

We will be solving one set of issues by gifting the bus to the county Office of Education, with appropriate protections to make sure it continues to be used as planned. The transfer of ownership means the COE will be able to provide maintenance (and who knows a school bus better than the schools) and train drivers. For the past two years, they have not been able to do that because of insurance restrictions.

The programming will continue to be funded by First 5 (possibly with new partners) and will be provided day to day by a community partner, as it has been in the past. This is what we are working on now.

We anticipate some small changes in the emphasis of where and when programs are offered. The original vision was that the Wonder Bus would reach children who cannot easily access library services, for example, but some of our outlying areas have seen few visits in the past two years. Some of that is due to road conditions and weather — perfectly understandable. Many of us worry about Last Chance Grade in a car, much less a bus.

The schedule will be tweaked to have a stronger focus on Gasquet, Smith River and Klamath and we hope to find locations in Fort Dick, Hiouchi and the Bertsch Tract as well.

Crescent City will still see the Wonder Bus frequently but the emphasis will tilt in favor of outlying communities.

While we all wait impatiently for our Wonder Bus to complete her spa services, First 5 welcomes community input on the programming and schedule. Please feel free to reach out to chat on the phone or in person about what you’d like to see when you next step on the Wonder Bus.

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