Get Out and Give Back: Not your Father’s Rotary

by WL Author

Rotary International has changed over the decade but one thing remains the same-they still do great things across America and across the world. Here are six reasons to consider joining.
By Jane Hess Collins

Mary Wharton, Buz Green of the Rotary Club of Devonport North, Tasmania, Australia, and Ron Marion, District Governor for Rotary District 7610 (northeast VA).

You can find Rotarians in over 33,000 clubs across the world, and all of them are unified by the motto of “Service above Self.” Having spoken at several Rotary clubs in northern Virginia in the last year, I’ve discovered that it is not the Rotary of yore. Several Rotarians I’ve met in the last year shared why Rotary is relevant today and why it’s the service club to join.

1. Rotarians open their meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. Call me sentimental, but every time a room full of adults places their right hand over their heart and recites allegiance to our indivisible nation, it makes me proud and safe and grateful that, while imperfect, our democratic process is still the best model for government in the world.

2.  Rotary is good for business. Robert DiCalogero, president-elect of the Burke Rotary, believes the typical Rotary model is ideal for small businesses and professionals, and the networking and contacts are both inevitable and invaluable. But, cautions Alexandria Rotary president Gayle Spurr, don’t join Rotary with the primary intention of improving your business. Join because you want to give back. (Btw, joining Rotary is also a great option if you’re retired or otherwise have free time).

3.  You can give back to your local community. All Rotary projects are locally oriented, according to Mary Wharton, the Burke Rotary president, who called Rotary “one of the largest grassroots organizations in the world” because of the many projects initiated by local clubs in local communities. “Everyone can find something they’d like to do,” added Spurr.

While some projects are funded by Rotary International, many are funded by local members. Two small examples-the Burke chapter locally funds its projects and programs with wounded warriors, and the Alexandria Rotary partners with Senior Services of Alexandria to provide the town’s Meals on Wheels service over the weekends.

4.  You can give back to your international community. Rotary clubs exist in over 200 countries and geographic areas across the world, and local clubs partner with overseas clubs for international projects. For example, the Alexandria Rotary, through a Rotary Reverse matching grant, has built several playgrounds in Lithuania and purchased a van to transport paraplegic athletes to events throughout Russia. Getting that local support increases the long-term sustainability rates of those projects, said DiCalogero.

Several international projects are corporately sponsored by Rotary International. Their ShelterBox program has provided emergency shelter and lifesaving supplies for families around the world who have been affected by disasters. Learn Grow, and Learn Grow America, help people learn about and grow local, indigenous, nutritious food. And of course, Rotary International has almost eradicated polio worldwide through its Polio Plus program, boosted in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $255 million challenge grant in 2009.

5.  Rotary has diversified its membership. OK, so it took a Supreme Court ruling to allow women to join Rotary clubs in 1987, 11 years after women were allowed to attend military service academies. Still, it’s rapidly moving away from the old man’s club perception to one of multicultural, multinational members. Interact and Rotaract, Rotary’s clubs for youth ages 12 – 18 and college kids/adults up to age 30 respectively, help plant the seeds of service to the next generation.

6.  Rotary can be fun. Club meetings open with the Pledge of Allegiance and end with the members reciting the Four-Way Test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Wharton said that some clubs have added “Is it fun?” as the fifth test question. Because yes, you can serve above self and have fun too.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow Get Out and Give Back on Facebook and Twitter.

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