Emmanuel Foundation’s three arms of service: playground projects, shipping containers and community development

An initiative to rescue playgrounds from landfills has evolved into a non-profit focused on community development, which also serves as our District’s shipping arm.

From its warehouse in Edmonton, the Emmanuel Foundation has shipped refurbished playgrounds, and medical and educational equipment and supplies, to more than 40 countries, primarily in Central America, the Caribbean and Africa.

The non-profit also hosts meal-packaging events for shipments to other countries and for use by inner-city soup kitchens and food programs.

Executive director Lyle Johnson (RC of Sherwood Park) traces the history of the Emmanuel Foundation to 2002 when existing playgrounds were being decommissioned because they didn’t conform to new safety standards. The equipment that was being removed was slated for landfills.

A group that included Gary Debney, who had spent 30 years in parks and recreation and is the father-in law of Lyle’s son, approached the city of Calgary with a proposal to establish a foundation. The city could donate its surplus equipment to the foundation to be refurbished and shipped to countries where children had no access to playground equipment.

The city response was, “For sure. We don’t want to see the good equipment being bulldozed and put into landfills. Such a great waste.” 

In 2004, Lyle joined the foundation’s board of directors and eventually became its executive director.

“In 2007, I came aboard part time as the executive director. Because the number of projects continued to increase, I went full time in 2009.”

In 2010, the foundation became the distribution centre for our District.

“We had HAWS  (the Humanitarian Assistance Warehouse Society) and ADRA (the Alberta Development Relief Association-Aid International Society) come to us and say they were going to shut down and wondered if I would be interested in taking on the shipping role for our District,” Lyle says.

The Humanitarian Assistance Warehouse Society had been established a few years earlier by the District and was partnered with the Alberta Development Relief Association-Aid International Society. 

“When HAWS started, the plan was that every club in the District would contribute $1,000 a year for this international service to carry on, but it just wasn’t happening,” Lyle says. “So HAWS felt it wasn’t sustainable as a District initiative and that was when it started to wind down.”

Initially, the Emmanuel Foundation was funded by personal donations, which remain one of its three sources of revenue.

“Personal donations, project-recovery donations and Rotary partnerships are our main sources of revenue,” Lyle says.

Since depending on donations from individuals was not sustainable, the foundation implemented a cost-recovery component to each project.

“This helps sustain sourcing the playgrounds, moving the playgrounds, removing them, refurbishing them and then looking after the storage and warehousing and shipping of them,” says Lyle.

“Currently, every one of our shipping projects usually has a $3,000 donation that is part of the project budget.”

Recognizing that playground equipment, alone, didn’t fill shipping containers, the foundation began to focus on community development.

“To make the shipments better value, it really made sense to put in quality goods with the playgrounds. That was a clever use of the donated dollars,” Lyle says.

“What we did is source humanitarian goods that the community or country we were shipping to could use.

“We are a province of prosperity. There is an incredible amount of surplus goods that are still very useful. That includes medical and education equipment and supplies,” says Lyle.

“We wanted to send goods that would help communities towards a better future. It would be something that would be more developmental, rather than emergency relief,” he says. “We still get the occasional emergency-relief projects, but it’s not a very high percentage of what we do. Our commitment is to be involved in projects that are community development. There’s a lot of agencies that do humanitarian aid, so we felt that we didn’t need to duplicate that as much.”

As the foundation became more involved in those types of projects, it changed “recreation and education,” in its name to “international community development.”

Recently, the foundation has started hosting meal-packaging events.

“We partnered officially with One Meal,” Lyle says. “These are great events that clubs can partner with. They can join together with a couple of other clubs. For 35 cents a meal we are able to put together a pretty nutritional package.

“It’s something that we can distribute not only overseas, but locally. We started to work with groups that work in the Northwest Territories and are able to send nutritional food up there,” Lyle says. “We’ve also been working with inner-city soup kitchens and food programs.”

In the future, the foundation hopes to provide resources to First Nation communities.

“We really are interested in building relationships with our Indigenous communities and perhaps providing our services here locally, both with playgrounds, and food nourishment,” Lyle says.

PDG Tracey Vavrek announces awards that recognize Rotary clubs for what they did to “connect the world” during 2019-2020

“(Rotary) allows us to connect with each other, in deep and meaningful ways, across our differences … It connects us to people we would never otherwise have met, who are more like us than we ever could have known. It connects us to our communities, to professional opportunities, and to the people who need our help.”

– 2019-20 Rotary International President Mark Maloney

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Whyte Avenue took the 2019-2020 theme—Rotary Connects the World—and ran with it.

As a result, on Saturday, September 12, during the Vision 2020 Virtual District Conference, Past District Governor Tracey Vavrek announced that the club is our District’s Rotary club of the year.

Other awards recognized clubs for what they accomplished related to community, international and youth service, and to public image and marketing. Awards were also presented to clubs for membership growth and outstanding support for The Rotary Foundation and Polio Plus.

PDG Tracey Vavrek

“The goal of the District awards is to recognize clubs and projects that build leaders, build community capacity, build partnerships and demonstrates how we can work on issues and projects and overcome those issues” Tracey said. “We also recognize that it is important that our projects and programs demonstrate how lives have been changed or impacted, and we are doing it right.”

The District is about to launch a review of its awards program and plans to release revised awards criteria in the spring.

The Rotary club of the year award is given to “a club that has performed in the highest traditions of Rotary and ways that clearly reflected the Rotary International theme.”

In its submission to the awards committee, the Edmonton Whyte Avenue club provided several examples of what it did to connect with the world through volunteerism and community service, by growing the club’s diversity and membership, by connecting with the community, by empowering leaders, by helping those in need around the world and by providing service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the year, the club provided more than 1,000 volunteer hours to community service projects and donated more than $19,000 in cash, goods and services to communities in need. Responding to 2019-2020 RI President Mark Maloney’s call to increase club diversity, the club recruited new members who reflect the diversity of Rotary, including younger members and people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Believing that, “One of the best ways to strengthen our club and build member potential is to give members the tools and skills to be even stronger club members and Rotarians,” the club created a Club Leadership Development Program.

During the pandemic, the club found ways to keep members connected and to also serve the community. This included supporting the Edmonton Food Bank, Operation Friendship (a program for seniors in need) and preparing and delivering 400 meals to others in need.

Gilbert Paterson Awards – Community, International, Youth Service

There are three District awards named in honour of Gilbert Paterson, a Lethbridge educator who in 1959-1960 served as Governor for District 536, which included Rotary clubs in today’s District 5360 and 5370. Each award focuses on a different avenue of service—community, international and youth.

The Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie–Swan City and Edmonton Northeast share the award for 2019-2020 that “recognizes clubs who take action to create lasting change in their communities and demonstrate dedication towards community service.”

For more than 20 years, the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie–Swan City has enlisted Rotarians from all the city’s clubs, Rotaractors and Interactors and other community members to participate in a city-wide food bank drive.

The food bank drive is conducted in September each year, but due to the increased demand due to COVID-19,  the club organized a second campaign in March 2020.

The September drive utilized approximately 1,000 volunteers who collected 47 tons of food, which is believed to be a Canadian record for a one-day food bank drive. In March, the Rotary Community Food Bank Committee launched an online campaign, with a target of $100,000 for local food banks. By the end of May, more than $225,000 had been raised.

The efforts of the Rotary Club of Edmonton Northeast were focused on 13 schools, non-profits and charities in northeast Edmonton, which the club says “contains neighbourhoods that have some of the most significant social issues in the Edmonton area.” During 2019-2020 the club provided more than $22,000 in program funding and more than 400 volunteers hours.

The club also partnered with the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton Glenora and Edmonton Whyte Avenue to support volunteers at the Edmonton Expo Centre, which was set up to house homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its submission, the club linked its programs to five of Rotary’s six areas of focus.

Program for girls in India

The award for International service, which “recognizes clubs who take action to create lasting change around the world,” was given to the Rotary Club of Grand Prairie for its Healthy Girls Healthy Future program, which has benefited more than 10,000 girls in Punjab, India.

The purpose of the program is “to give young girls the knowledge and facilities necessary to develop and maintain good menstrual hygiene practices … [and to] improve their knowledge of the biological process of menstruation and [to] learn healthy management strategies.”

The club links its project to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower Women at the Grassroots Level. 

In its award submission, the club cited research that says, due to inadequate menstrual protection girls aged 12-18 miss up to five school days a month and 23 per cent drop out after reaching puberty.

Since initiating the project in 2013, that club has provided nearly $39,000 for menstrual hygiene education and to fund the installation of sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators for safe disposal. 

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Strathcona received the Gilbert Paterson Award for Youth Services in recognition of the support it has provided to the New Hope School in South Africa.

The award “recognizes the club whose project, activity or event best reflects service to inspire, engage, or support youth-related initiatives.”

For the past five years, two club members have led tours to South Africa and Zambia for Rotarians, family and friends. During these trips, the groups visit New Hope School, one of the largest schools for students with special needs in South Africa. 

These visits have inspired donations from individuals and the Strathcona club, which have assisted the school to create a safe environment for these students and housing for students who come from other parts of South Africa and from other countries to attend the school.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Strathcona was selected for the Public Image and Marketing award for its poster promoting its Polio Plus event.

The award “recognizes a club demonstrating skills in building public image and effective public relations practices.”

The poster was circulated to members and their contacts and resulted in better than  anticipated attendance, which prompted the club to plan a second event that would have been held in May. Due to the pandemic, this second event was postponed.

Membership, Foundation Awards

Other awards were given to clubs based on outcomes achieved during 2019-2020.

The Rotary Club of Morinville received the membership award, which recognizes the club with the largest percentage increase in membership during 2019-2020. The club had a net increase of  five members, or 17 per cent.

The Rotary Club of Hinton  was recognized for its support of The Rotary Foundation, with an average per capita contribution of $393.12. The average contribution by members of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse was $384.67 and of the Rotary Club of St. Albert, $303.54.

In terms of the total donations to Polio Plus, the top three clubs were the Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie After Five ($63,790.81), Edmonton West ($9,952.83) and Edmonton South ($6,535.36).

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Association president hopes more District 5370 members will attend Hands Across the Border Assembly online

Sitting in the lobby of the 93-year-old Prince of Wales Hotel (a designated Canadian historical site), one looks out over Upper Waterton Lake and sees in the distance the mountains of Glacier Park in Montana.

A sign near the village marina informs passersby that they are in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

As the MV Miss Waterton tour boat crosses the international boundary, the guide tells passengers how Rotarians from Alberta and Montana lobbied their respective federal governments to establish the world’s first international peace park, encompassing national parks on both sides of the border.

The governments passed the necessary legislation in 1932, which Rotarians from both countries have celebrated since 1935, when the idea for the annual Hands Across the Border Assemblies was proposed by the Rotary Club of Great Falls, Montana.

These meetings alternate between the two countries. One of the few interruptions to this schedule occurred in 2017, when the Kenow Wildfire burned through 38 per cent of the park.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has closed the border between the two countries and prevents in-person gatherings, the 2020 assembly will still be held, albeit virtually, hosted by the Rotary Club of Missoula Sunrise.

It is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, September 19, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. MDT. It’s free, but please pre-register.

The president of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Association,  Bill Gordon (RC of Fort Saskatchewan), sees both positive and negative in the present circumstances.

“On the negative side, people are not getting a chance to enjoy the park together and to work hands-on together on a project. But on the positive side, we hope that many Rotarians who have not been able to attend because of the cost or the distance will join us online,” he says.

“There are sticking points for getting people from 5370 to come to the assembly. One is the distance, of course,” Bill says. “But the second is that the other three Districts involved all hold their big conference in the spring and we hold ours in the fall.

“People say, ‘Well, I can only go to one conference this time of year,’ and of course the District almost always will win out. So, this year, it has been helpful because everything is online people can do both this year. They can attend the District conference the week before us and then ours on the following week.”

During the assembly, Bill will relinquish his role as president to a Rotarian from Montana, who will serve in that role until the meeting in 2022, when a Canadian will once again lead the organization.

Of course, this year’s gathering will be different than what has occurred in previous years.

“In a regular, normal year, we would meet in September and celebrate another year working together in peace, beginning on a Friday. We often will have projects that a person can be involved in on the first day, such as rehabilitating a hiking trail,” Bill says.

There is also usually a friendly international golf tournament on the Friday and a WGIPPA board meeting.

“It’s one of the few times the whole board can be gathered in one location,” Bill says.

The assembly itself is held on Saturday. “It’s a day of workshops and presentations, all focused on peace and the importance of conserving the environment,” Bill says.

“We have speakers from the national parks on the flora and fauna of the park. The peace scholars will come and talk about the importance of peace and Indigenous persons talk about the importance of that area to the Indigenous tribes, especially the Blackfoot (Ni’tsitapi) who were the original inhabitants and still do inhabit a large area situated within the parks themselves.”

There is also usually a parallel conference for youth exchange students from the four Districts, organized by Rotaract clubs from the University of Alberta or from Montana.

Sunday, there is an ecumenical church service and the assembly ends when everyone gets together for a hands-across-the-border ceremony.

“Some years we’re actually able to go to the border, but many years we’re not able to, so we will run an artificial border, a ribbon down the centre of where we’re meeting,” Bill says. “Rotarians from the United States gather on one side. Rotarians from Canada gather on the other. 

“We shake hands across the border and pledge that for another year we will work for peace between our nations.

Those responsible for planning the virtual event plan to preserve as many of the traditional events as possible.

“The two superintendents of the parks will update us on what has been happening with the regrowth of the forest since the Kenow fire in 2017 and how they’re rebuilding much of the infrastructure that was lost,” Bill says.

Peace Fellow Linda Low will make a presentation on peace leadership dialogues and there will be a presentation by Tim Chapman, the chair of Peace Garden in North Dakota and Manitoba.

And as happens every year, the assembly will end with the Peace Pledge.

The pledge has changed this year. “We used to say ‘between our two nations,’ but now it will say ‘between our nations’ taking into consideration that the Indigenous nations on each side of the border were important parts of the whole formula, as well,” Bill says.

The Pledge:

“In the name of all we hold sacred, we will not take up arms against each other. We will work for peace, maintain liberty, strive for freedom and demand equal opportunities for all. May the long-existing peace between our nations stimulate other peoples to follow this example.”

Rotary Club of Fort Saskatchewan commits to diversity, equity and inclusion

The Rotary Club of Fort Saskatchewan has committed itself to become an organization that reflects the community it serves.

The club wants to grow and diversify its membership to be “inclusive of all cultures, experiences and identities,” the club said in a news release issued on August 10.  Rotary International has designated August as Membership and New Club Development Month.

“We’re creating an organization that is more open and inclusive, fair to all, builds goodwill and benefits our communities,” the news release reads.

As a first step, the club adopted RI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement as its own.

“As a global network that strives to build a world where people unite and take actions to create lasting change, Rotary values diversity and celebrates the contributions of people of all backgrounds, regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, colour, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. Rotary will cultivate a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture in which people from under-represented groups have greater opportunities to participate as members and leaders.”

“Given world events of late, our club felt it was important to formally take a stand and declare our beliefs around diversity, equity and inclusion,” president Ted Griffiths says.

The DEI statement was the focus of former RI vice-president Dean Rhors when she spoke during the charter night celebration for the Northwest Spirit passport club in July.

“We are looking at the acceptance of everyone into our society in a completely equal way,” Dean said. “I don’t care who you are or what you are. Every one of us is different, because we are individuals. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, what your societal background is, what culture you come from. We are all human beings on this planet. All deserve equal opportunities and an equal place at the Rotary table.

“It is going to become part of Rotary policy that there will be no divisions. There will be equity on every single level, be it gender, be it sexual orientation, be it colour, be it age, be it religion, be it culture, be it political views.”

Discovering Rotary’s DEI Statement

The Fort Saskatchewan club’s diversity chairperson, Terry Stacey, confesses to have been unaware of the DEI statement when she began her research into membership diversity.

“I was actually surprised to find the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement on the RI website. We had not seen it before,” Terry says. “So that sort of brought up the question, ‘If we had never seen it before, how many other Rotary clubs have not seen it?’ ”

She says she became intrigued by the topic of diversity and inclusion after attending an online conversation with Dr. Todd “Bowtie” Jenkins, hosted by PDG Tracey Vavrek during one of her Connect Over Coffee sessions this past spring.

Jenkins, a member of the Rotary Club of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was also part of a panel discussion of DEI during RI’s virtual 2020 convention. During that session, he offered three reasons for Rotary clubs to become more diverse and inclusive:

“There are usually three reasons I like to remind people of why this is important,” he said. “Number one is the moral case. It is the right thing to do. Or you may hear (about) the social case. Our community is changing so we have to change as well. But the core thing that is not debatable is the business case.

“If we get this right, it will grow Rotary, it will grow our membership. If you want Rotary to stay for another 100 years, you need to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.”

During this breakout session, which was recorded before the announcement of Jennifer Jones as the 2022-2023 RI president, panelists made several references to the need for a woman as president.

In the announcement of her appointment, Jennifer Jones confirmed her support for DEI.

Future RI President Jennifer Jones speaks to Rotarians during a visit to Edmonton in fall 2019

“I believe that diversity, equity and inclusion begins at the top, and for us to realize growth in female membership and members under the age of 40 these demographics need to see their own reflection in leadership,” she says. “I will champion double-digit growth in both categories, while never losing sight of our entire family.”

The recording also includes examples of what clubs around the world are doing to build more diverse memberships.

From their research, Terry and Ted concluded that DEI “was the cornerstone of Rotary,” Terry says.

“This goes way, way back. I think it was in 1940 or something, at one of RI’s conventions, that they apparently approved something,” she says.

“When I started reading about the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I didn’t get past the first page when I went, ‘You’ve got to be joking. All this stuff that was going on, particularly in the U.S. but certainly some here in Canada; all this stuff was in that declaration of human rights,’ ” Terry says. “Boy, have we ever been negligent as people for not following through and not taking it on-board.”

Ted reflected on how his experience as a social studies teacher influences his thinking about the topic.

“When I taught Canadian history in Grade Eight, I read Peter Newman’s trilogy of Canadian history,” he says. “One of the big themes that came out there was just how abusive the people of history were to women and natives. It’s not a very proud history when you get into it.”

Ted feels that 2020 has become a pivotal year related to diversity and inclusion.

“There has been a major shift in the way people look at discrimination and look at how they treat other people in all categories, and so much may be subconscious or unconscious,” he says. “You’re discriminating without even knowing that you’re discriminating.”

He also relates DEI to peace and conflict prevention/resolution, which is one of Rotary’s six areas of focus. “I think there are 11 or 12 different aspects to how you deal with peace in the world and peace in your community, and one of them is acceptance, diversity and inclusion.”

Intentions backed up with action

Having adopted the DEI statement, it’s important that the club backs up its intentions with action.

“What Terry and I would really like to do is get beyond this statement, because over the years we’ve see a lot of statements about justice and civil rights and equal rights for women, and this and that, and quite often there’s no action plan to follow it up,” Ted says.

As part of its DEI action plan the club will build on the relationship that the club already has with the local multicultural association.

“We have financially supported the multicultural association in a number of ways over the years and we’re looking at trying to work more with them and they are certainly open to that,” Terry says. “What we want to do is leverage the resources already in our community and not have to reinvent the wheel.”

Both Ted and president-elect Michael Gabriel are members of the multicultural association. Earlier this year, the club acknowledged the value of the association’s contributions to the community by recognizing its chair, Lana Santana, as the club’s integrity award recipient. 

Terry says that the club’s DEI action plan was adapted from a suggestion on the RI website and may include:

  • Talking about diversity in the club
  • Inviting local diversity, equity and inclusion experts to speak at club meetings
  • Using the club’s standing within the community to bring awareness and action on diversity, equity and inclusion to the forefront in the community
  • Encouraging members to seek out and invite prospective new members into our club to continue our club’s acceptance of diversity, equity and including
  • Sharing resources and opportunities around diversity, equity and include with the Interact club
  • Investigating ways to support special days in the community, such as National Indigenous Peoples Day, women’s day, multicultural day, Pride Day, etc.