Life is busy. Work, family, bills, repeat. What little free time remains is precious, and doled out sparingly. Yet across this country and across the world, people take time out of those busy lives to participate in a service club in their community. Some guide our youth by becoming girl scout or boys scout leaders. Others volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, humane societies, or another outlet that allows them to both contribute to their community and interact with others in formal or casual social service organizations. If you gaze out your window while driving through towns, you may see signs announcing the presence of some service organizations like Rotary, Lions, or Kiwanis.
The m ere thought of attending a meeting full of structure, guidelines, rules, and fees, may induce anything from a yawn to a laugh to a shudder of dread. Aren’t our lives already jammed with such things? Don’t these very things already weigh us down, stress us out, and rob us of enough of our carefree attitude? Well- yes. But many clubs are aware of their archaic images and taking steps to shake things up a bit. They are getting out of meetings and into the dirt, building playgrounds or hosting family fun days that offset the necessary tediousness of the business end of things. They invite engaging speakers like our very own William “Monsoon” Mimiaga to educate and entertain members, they sponsor social events, host international guests, and travel abroad.
Rotary – Service Above Self
A good natured rivalry exists among the three clubs. In fairness, I should write about each of them here. I know of the Lions and Kiwanis, but, I grew up in Rotary. This Snippet will be about Rotary and how it lives its motto of “Service Above Self” via none other than my mom, Doris Obremski. She and my dad have both served as District Governors and I am still surprised none of us were named after Paul Harris. Anyone here a Kiwana or Lion? Any other service club or community organization?
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Take it away, Mom…
Actress Jessica Lang was threatened in the 1984 remake of “King Kong” with a fate worse than death – to spend the rest of her life tap dancing at Rotary clubs if she did not agree to her part in the spectacular introduction of the big beast to the world.
That’s just a sample of Rotary’s bleak reputation among authors and playwrights.
This outdated reputation was gleaned from outdated times when service clubs were accepted as “prestigious old boys clubs” or“luncheon clubs” comprised of men who “don’t like women” and meet in secret – and those were the kinder comments. Bet you can’t wait to join us!
Well, times have changed. I am a real living Rotarian, and a female to boot, who actually has tap danced for one of our Rotary club’s incredibly spectacular performances at Goshen, New York’s middle school auditorium as we raised funds for our humanitarian and community projects.
But I have also had the privilege of administering the polio vaccine to children in India on one of many Rotary National Immunization Days(WHO and the Gates Foundation have become hugely involved now) around the world – millions of children can be vaccinated in one day! Unless you are part of the senior generation it is difficult to relate to this horror. Growing up many of us could not gather in groups, swim in pools, etc. for fear of this epidemic. The specter of being paralyzed or dying if we contracted polio was just too real.
In 1985, when a Rotarian in the Philippines began this quest to save the children in his island country from the ravages of this disease, the epidemic had grown to the point that more than 1000 new cases of polio were contracted every day, all over the world. Rotary’s goal became eliminating polio – period – and we’ve worked tirelessly to make that happen. Today, only 37 cases of childhood polio are known – worldwide. We are so close!
In a whole other side of Rotary, I ask you to imagine yourself wallowing in mud.
Now, imagine doing so with other like-minded mud lovers and voila! Welcome to Rotary. When you’ve become one of those “prestigious old boys” who “don’t like women” you too can wallow or slush. I did when we built our accessible playground in town during some not-such perfect weather. For years we have had the joy of seeing children and families enjoying this playground, and it never gets old.
Then there are the sweet kids, most from inner cities in nearby communities, who are fortunate to get away for two weeks during the summer to Braeside Camp in Middletown NY, just up the road from us. They love the camp and its trips to places like the 19 century recreated Museum Village where they get to run around, check out farm animals, learn hands on about life in the 1800’s, and receive a lesson from the school marm at the old stone school house. Some of our area Rotary clubs raised money to make that happen. We’ve also replaced their dining hall floor, renovated cabins, planted a garden, and painted beds, for which we are mightily reimbursed in our hearts.
One of the best days in our club is when we hear from some young adults we’ve supported. They often return to tell us how we have given their financial lives a pick-me-up with our scholarship support for their vocational training, which made it possible for them to support their families in their chosen careers.
I almost forgot: we sponsor international Youth Exchange students, High School Service organizations, and overnight leadership training for high school sophomores. That’s right – 15 year olds! They are trainable and they teach us a lot, too.
Rotarians around the country are also committed to active and retired members of our military services and their families.
Snowball Express is a most heart-warming, important and impressive long weekend escape for surviving family members of service men and women who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has ballooned to such a huge success that American Airlines has now adopted Snowball Express as their own from the California Rotary clubs and veterans who instituted it.
Lest you think this all sounds like too much work, allow me to disclose that Rotarians usually do meet around a meal or a Social Hour. We believe it’s all a valuable part of our fellowship and networking. The new reality, however, is that we are so flexible, get-togethers can work around most any schedule and we can visit at any Rotary club around the world in more than 200 countries and geographic regions.
Bottom line in Rotary? “If you see something, say something”translates to us as: If you are at home, traveling for business or on vacation – whether domestic or abroad – and see a community need like clean water, health care, professional training, etc. just share a plan with your fellow Rotarians and you can make it happen.
Looking for some humanitarian projects begun by Rotary that you can support?
Check out www.aquabox.org to learn about a simple and inexpensive means to clean water.
Learn how to provide immediate post disaster assistance in the U.S or anywhere around the world.
Want to know more about our work to eradicate polio? Visit www.endpolio.org