What is Rotary International? Your Local Rotary Club Is Doing More Than You Think
Even after I joined the Salt Lake Rotary Club six months ago, I wasn’t sure just what to think. The average age of our active club members—judging by appearances—is north of 65. The image of a bunch of senior men—with a few younger women and a smattering of guys who still have hair that isn’t all gray—singing the National Anthem and reciting the pledge of allegiance seemed a throwback to a time before I was even born.
You probably know that Rotary International is the group to which Bill Gatesand his foundation turned years ago to fund the global battle on polio. In the mid-nineties Rotary helped to immunize 165 million children in China and India in a single year. Rotarians themselves have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the fight against polio. Rotary is winning this battle: in 1988 when Rotary launched their global initiative (individual clubs had been active in the effort long before) there were 125 “polio endemic” countries in the world; today there are just three.
The luncheon meetings at our club have been fascinating. They remind me of the best of Ted Talks, with experts visiting each week and sharing insights on demographics, birth control trends and technology, world peace from the perspective of a Utah-based Krishna priest, and performances from some of Utah’s most talented people.
Recently, I reached out to the Rotary International community to learn about the sorts of things clubs are doing around the world.
If you are a Rotarian and your story isn’t included in the article, please share it in the comments below.
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Regina Edwards, a municipal attorney and past president of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Rotary Club shared the story of their club’s work in Jamaica, providing medical equipment for the Cornwall Regional Hospital and the Blessed Assurance and West Haven homes for disabled children. Over the past decade, the club has provided $300,000 of medical equipment, supplies and toys. Baylor Health Care System from the Dallas Area has been their key donor, she notes. “We partner with the local Rotary club in Montego Bay which coordinates with the hospital so we know we are providing requested items on its “wish list”, working with the Ministry of Health in Jamaica so the items enter duty-free and arranging transportation directly to the hospital (so none are lost to the black market),” she says. “The world is a place of incredible need and hope all wrapped up together. ‘Service Above Self,’ a simple Rotary motto to aspire to and even more fun and rewarding when you put it into practice,” she concluded.
Pete Cross, a retired international business consultant who sits on the board of his club in Carrollton/Farmers Branch, Texas shared his experiences with mentoring and tutoring students at a local school over the past thirteen years. Many of the students are immigrants learning English and struggling in school; most, he says, do not have intact families. The Carrollton/Farmers Branch Rotary Club also provides the school with funds for supplies, field trips, winter coats and Rotary organizes a big holiday party for the kids every year. He says, “[I] Have had [my] share of successes and failures but know it has been favorable when a young adult taps you on the shoulder, introduces you to his wife and child and then says ‘remember me, I was your first kid and without you I would have never made it, thanks.’ This makes it all worthwhile and keeps you going back for more!” He notes that the greatest impact of the effort is the number of kids who graduate from high school and go on to college.
Linda Wong, a retiree who volunteers as the public relations director for her club in Vancouver, BC also shared the story of her club’s work in promoting literacy in elementary schools, delivering dictionaries to all the students in fourth and fifth grades at twelve different inner-city schools in the Vancouver area. The club also provided a computer hub and 30 iPads for use in the schools. “I feel that literacy is very important in the development of a child. A lot of our recipients are new immigrants, needing to learn English. It was rewarding to see a child holding a dictionary, using [it] in their reading, and writing a ‘thank you’ card to our club. Education makes a big difference in their lives,” she said.
Kate Sirignano, a marketing executive and the president-elect for her club in Southington, Connecticut shared the story of her club’s efforts to literally clean up the community. Starting three years ago for Earth Day, Steve Parsons “took it upon himself to organize a town-wide cleanup effort.” Rotary organized the community to gather hundreds of bags of trash and get them properly disposed. She added, “I’m proud of our longtime member who initially came up with the idea and organized the project because it was not an easy task.”
Debbie Monagan, a marketing communications professional and Vice Chair of the Toledo Rotary Foundation told me about the projects their club tackled to celebrate its 100th anniversary. First, they pledged $300,000 to build a riverfront park in the “Middlegrounds” in downtown Toledo. In addition, they replaced a roof and added a wing to a school in San Pedro Sula in Honduras. “These endeavors and many more embody the meaning of ‘Service Above Self,’” she says.
Vince Breglio, a business consultant and chairman of the international services committee in his local club reports that his club is actively engaged in five international projects in each of Ghana, Morocco, the Philippines, Cambodia and India. He reports, “In Ghana, we fund a primary school for orphans which with our help doubled in size. It now is providing the only education for approximately 30 orphans and another 30 or so local kids from disadvantaged homes. In Morocco, we are funding the only neurological injury rehabilitation clinic in the country. Our support has been instrumental in the purchase of second-hand medical devices to assist in rehabilitation. In India, we have provided the surgical supplies for more than 600 cataract surgeries in rural parts of the country. In the Philippines, we are funding book bags and rain gear for first grade students in a very rural part of the country enabling kids to get to school dry during the rainy season. In Cambodia, we fund the development of sustainable clean water systems, bikes for kids so they can get to school and even the purchase of a water buffalo or two to assist in plowing fields.”
Shawn Gordon, an architect who serves as the club president for the Central Dupage AM club is cooperating with other community organizations, including the Wheaton Park District, the Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, the Forest Preserve District DuPage County and Shane’s Inspiration to create a “safe, fun environment for families who have children with autism, sensory integration disorder or other disabilities. The Club has committed $25,000 to the project. The club has also committed to provide some of the labor for the project. “I would say that our club has passionately embraced the huge opportunity of making a difference this project offers to our local community. There is a level of excitement present in our club that is becoming infectious. While we do many other meaningful service projects throughout the course of a Rotary year, this project offers a unique opportunity that we plan to make the most of,” he said.
Pearl Wright serves as the marketing and PR committee chair in the Salt Lake City Rotary Club. She shared her experiences with the club’s efforts to support the Wasatch Community Gardens, an urban garden supported by Rotary for the benefit of low income families, especially youth who are trained in gardening. The Salt Lake Club prepares the gardens each spring, helps with harvesting early-season vegetables and provides funding for gardening equipment. On the impact of the project, she noted, “Teaching someone the art of service above self is a gift that gives in perpetuity.”
Callan Dick, an IT professional and president the Rotary Club of Clyde Valley, in the central belt of Scotland near Glasgow, explained how the club organized the local effort to restore rail service to the town decades ago. The government had discontinued rail service to a variety of small towns, but based on the case made by the Rotarians, the service was restored. Today, Callan says, usage of the line exceeds the estimates made years ago. “Although Rotary Clubs raise money for good causes, this is an example of how Rotarians get actively involved in community issues, not just raising cash but devoting their time and skills to making a difference,” he said.
Ward Vuillemot, a retired operations manager and executive secretary and webmaster for the Skaneateles Rotary Club, shared their efforts at gleaning “gently used children’s early learner and K-12 textbooks from homes, schools and libraries. The books are sorted, packaged and shipped by local clubs to a Rotarian-managed organization called Second Wind Foundation. The books are then shipped in 40-foot containers around the world to places where they are needed. To date, more than 11 full containers have been shipped with help from 76 Rotary and Interact (a youth organization sponsored by Rotary) Clubs in Central and Western New York State. “It is satisfying to work within our community to make a difference in our world. It gives us focus on the needs of others in regions of the world where children do not have the resources and opportunities for an education, as do our children. One little book makes a big difference in a child’s life” he says.
Hadi Mortada, a marketing and PR professional who is the president elect for his club, shared his club’s commitment to provide $25,000 per year for three years to build a drug and alcohol treatment facility, The Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre in Eastern Ontario, Canada. The facility is dedicated to helping youth ages 13 to 18 overcome substance abuse. Previously, his club funded the construction of a “Rotary Respite Home” to provide parents with stress relief to help them and their children. “I am personally proud of my club and my fellow Rotarians who participate with me on these projects,” he said.
Greg Albright, the club manager for the Indianapolis Club, shared their support of the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. In order to celebrate the 100thanniversary of their club, they raised and donated $1.5 million to the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, Rotary Club of Indianapolis Food Distribution Center. Having set the goal in February 2011 to complete the fundraising before their anniversary in February 2013, they reached their goal one month early, in January of this year. Previously, the club raised $1 million for the Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. Of his experiences, he said, “Giving money and volunteering (like so many other Rotarians), I feel super proud of the things we can accomplish by organizing our efforts, both large and small. But more importantly, it makes me feel right and good when we follow our own ‘Service Above Self’ motto.”
John Ashton, an attorney who chairs the arts committee in the Salt Lake City Rotary Club explained that his club finances a local arts organization called Arts Access that provides veterans with weekly classes exploring new creative experiences. Each six-week session provides twelve veterans with an opportunity to build new relationships with other vets and gain a new perspective on life. Feedback from the vets, includes, “I don’t think I would have survived the last few months without this class. I’m excited again about life.” Another said, “It’s so nice to see other vets in a living, creative atmosphere as opposed to being at a funeral.”
Heather Hansen, a real estate agent and public relations director for the Rotary Club of Edina Minnesota shared the story of Moses Mwaura, a six-year-old boy born in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya with severely crossed eyes. Rotarian Sandy Schley, met the boy on a Rotary trip to Africa doing a clean water project. Heather said, “This is a beautiful example of how one person with the support of her Rotary club can impact a single child’s life and hopefully make a difference not only for him, but his entire community. I feel it is a wonderful example of small acts of extreme kindness and care that when shared with others can inspire change in attitudes. It inspires me. It encourages me to think outside the box and take action for the good of others instead of just observing.” Please take a moment to watch this video:
David Oates, who founded a marketing agency and serves on the board of the Rotary Club of San Diego, shared the story of Rotary Camp Enterprise, a program that has been running now for 38 years. It is an “activity-packed, three-day workshop” based on curriculum provided by the American Management Association. Participants are high school juniors who pay nothing to participate and are selected by high school guidance counselors. The students come from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The students are assigned to teams and required to prepare business plans. Every student is required to participate in a final presentation that includes an explanation of how the business meets the Rotary “Four Way Test,” a simple code of ethics Rotarians follow. Over its life, 2,400 students have participated in the program. David shared these thoughts about his participation, “I. Am. Hooked. After two years of club membership, I finally volunteered as a facilitator for one of the teams. The issue was we were told in advance to use the Socratic Method; one that requires us to essentially stay quiet, ask leading questions but do not teach, instruct or direct the activities of the team. The students were left to figure it out on their own. I thought we were setting them up for failure, despite the fact that Camp Enterprise had been in existence for 34 years prior to my participation. What I learned actually changed my management style at work.”
Richard Nordlund, who serves on the environment and parks committee of the Salt Lake City Rotary Club, says that the committee works with the City and County to improve recreational areas in Salt Lake County by providing funding for the Rotary Glen Park, doing clean up at Rotary Park, working with other Rotary Clubs in the area, building a bridge over the Jordan River, planting trees and weeding a community garden. The committee also makes grants to organizations that have a positive effect on the environment. Of his participation, he noted simply, “The projects we are involved with are areas that will benefit the community.”
Bill Flash, a financial advisor and member of the Patterson New York Rotary Club, shared their experiences in helping with the recovery after Hurricane Sandy. He reported, “In the bitter-cold months of January and February we distributed; coffee pots, microwaves, toasters, telephones, radios, heaters, crock-pots, small refrigerators, toaster-ovens, and other countertop appliances in the Rockaways and Broad Channel.” He went on to say, “In uncharacteristic fashion I will actually take credit for the idea, but just the idea. I am so impressed by the swift and efficient coordination within Patterson Rotary, Brewster Rotary, and I assume most Rotary clubs. I shared my idea and the two clubs immediately mobilized. Martin arranged for a “pod” to use for collection and storage at Jim’s business, and Bill provided a rent-a-truck for the same purpose at his drop-off site. Dan printed posters. Penny contacted the other Rotary Clubs in the area. Ralph provided signs to identify collection sites. Everyone did something. That’s what I love about Rotary. Anyone can have a good idea for helping others. At Rotary meetings those ideas quickly (and joyfully) become actions that often surpass the original idea.”
Paul Stringham, a commercial real estate developer and a member of the Salt Lake City Rotary Club, shared his experience in helping over 100 families in the village of Chong Ruk in Cambodia. He and his wife lead a large group of volunteers including Rotarians, Sustainable Cambodia, YouthLinc and the villagers themselves. Together, they “installed & distributed 50 bio-sand filters in small village huts, constructed a school/library, purchased 75 bikes for school children, purchased 4 water buffalo, 6 cows, 60 chickens, assembled and distributed 6 large first aid kits, 350 dental hygiene kits, supplied 200 school bags, 3,960 books, 440 uniforms to students, installed a 1,100 gallon water attachment unit to the roof of the school/library we constructed, installed a 1,300’ fence around the school for security and funded a $1,200 deep water well providing clean water to approximately 500 children attending the school. Also, we made and distributed 300 reusable feminine napkins, and taught 250 children in their respective classes lessons on first aid, health, safety, English, math, cultural exchanges, etc.”
Joyce Lockard, a retired microbiologist from the Rotary Club of Beaverton in Oregon, reported that, “Beginning in 2001, Beaverton Rotary’s Books for the World Project has collected used textbooks and school library books from schools, school districts, bookstores, colleges and universities and private individuals in Beaverton and the surrounding area and has shipped them to educational institutions in eight countries that need them. We have shipped a total about 1.5 million pounds, which is approximately 1.2 million books (we don’t count books). An experienced book shipping NGO has estimated that each used book can be used by about 20 users before it is worn out, so about 25 million children and young adults could potentially benefit from this project.” She went on to say, “Getting used books is easy—it is finding shipping money that is difficult. Shipping charges for the forty 40-foot shipping containers of books have been paid with Rotary matching grants and by the US government’s Denton Program, which pays for ocean freight for humanitarian assistance materials.”
Linda Bonar, a retired nonprofit executive who sits on the board of the Salt Lake City Rotary Club, explained that her club adopted Franklin Elementary School. The club not only provides tutoring for sixth graders, but also makes small one-time grants to parents who need help to pay for medical bills, bunk beds, car repairs and such. The club has also implemented an arts program and teaches the students to take “yoga breaks” to help students deal with stress. The club also takes the students to the zoo once each year and on another field trip as well. The club provides coats and other warm clothes and provides a full Christmas with dinner and presents for families in need from the school. She added that, “Tutoring and helping students at Franklin Elementary has been a very beneficial program, for the students and the Rotarians. It helps the students academically and brings satisfaction to the Rotarians who have the opportunity to help children in need. Further, it brings friendships and familiarity to different groups of people who might not normally meet each other, making our community stronger as a result.”
Brett Sutherland, an investment advisor who serves as the youth scholarship chair in the Salt Lake City Club, reports that the club has awarded approximately $700,000 in scholarships to graduating high school seniors who “exemplify ‘Service Above Self.’” The scholarships are not needs based nor determined by academic performance. The club seeks to help students who “genuinely care about others.” He also noted, “Youth who care about others and spend their time in service are the hope of Rotary and all other service organizations.”
Gary Rosensteel, an entrepreneur from the McMurray Rotary Club near Pittsburg, reported on the work his club has done for the Fundacion Hogar Infantil Madre de Dios orphanage in Cali, Columbia. He said, “We have provided beds, blankets, school supplies, major appliances, kitchen equipment, a extended seating van, and many other things over the years. The van alone has had a major impact on the orphanage by providing a way to transport the older kids to outside schooling, all of the kids to medical facilities, a way to transport food and other supplies and many other things. There is much more to do, but many have already been helped!”
Safia Keller, a public relations professional who chaired the parks and environment committee of the Salt Lake City Club, reports that one of the activities under her leadership is a regular grant program called the “Green Business Make-over”; the grants are given to nonprofits to help them make their operations more sustainable. She added, “They can use these funds to buy a hot-water heater blanket, upgrade light bulbs and light fixtures to be more energy efficient or buy any other energy efficient tools for their business.”
Judy Neveau, a college community relations director and current president of the Rotary Club of Santa Monica, reported on one project, “The project was to do hold a ‘Rotary Day of Service,’ focusing on improving the learning environment for a local continuation high school. Volunteers from the Rotary Club of Santa Monica, the local college Rotaract Club, the local Jaycees Club and community volunteers as well as the school’s own faculty came together for a full day of cleaning the site, painting and planting and refurbishing, to instill a sense of pride and worthiness in the school’s student population and faculty and staff. In addition, the Rotary Club donated $5,000 for classroom technology needs.” She added that, “The theme for my presidential year is ‘Rotary is an Education, Service is the Tuition.’”
Vicki Rao, an accountant who is a member of the Rotary Club of Katy, Texas, where organizing an annual triathlon has become a primary way to fund projects. She noted, “This year Rotary Club of Katy will present 15 scholarships in the amount of $1,500 each to deserving students in Katy Independent School District.” Organizing the annual Katy Triathlon is a major undertaking, requiring thousands of volunteer hours from feeding the racers to cleaning up after them. She adds, “It is wonderful when we are able to tell the athletes that we are using the funds raised for scholarships and other worthwhile charitable causes.”
Patricia Crossley, an educator who is a member of the Victory Rotary Club in British Columbia, reported that, “Since 2002, Victoria Rotary Club has sponsored many projects for community development in Kenya, often in collaboration with the Rotary Clubs of Kakamega, Maseno and Homa Bay. Since I volunteer in Kenya for 6 month of the year, some funds have been entrusted to the charitable organisation Tembo-Kenya which I administer. These projects have included containers of school supplies, shipments of medical supplies, over 30 wells and protected springs for clean water; literacy programmes (Read for the Top) in over 20 schools, job training, teacher training, community education to promote peace and harmony; composting toilets for improved sanitation.”
John Zaccheo, who is retired and serves on three committees in the Salt Lake City Club, reports “The Salt Lake City Club, Club 24, has an outstanding history of service and community projects. The club is active in all charities and has answered many needs, in personal service and financial requests. In addition we have a large number of members who participate in the global grants in eliminating polio and who have contributed to the International Rotary organization to aid in many underprivileged areas of the world. We are a strong, dedicated group who believe in service and it is a mantra that has permeated club 24 for over 100 years.”
As you can see, the range of projects that have been undertaken by Rotary clubs around the globe runs from small gestures like paying for a car repair for a needy family, to massive projects like building a new community food bank at a cost of $1.5 million dollars—all while working collectively to rid the world of polio.