Rotary’s partnership with Volunteer Connector will bring more service projects to the attention of Rotarians

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 10.12.22 AMLooking for more ways to put “Service Above Self” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The right service project for your club or individual Rotarians may be waiting for you on Volunteer Connector, a web platform that connects volunteers with not-for-profit organizations to support communities across Canada.

It is operated by the Volunteer Centre of Calgary, which has just partnered with Rotary Districts 5360 and 5370.

In an email to club presidents in both Districts, DG Tracey Vavrek and District 5360 DG Christine Rendell wrote, “Our vision is to mobilize the thousands of Rotarians within our two Districts to support community needs today and as we move through the effects of the pandemic.”

They note that the government of Alberta recently identified the need for a network of volunteers to provide support through the global pandemic. 

“We know that there are approximately 25,000 not-for-profits across Alberta and many more in the other provinces and territories we serve. As Rotarians, we are well positioned to respond to this critical need.

“This is a simple way for our Rotarians to safely volunteer in support of efforts related to COVID-19.”

In their message to presidents, the District Governors called upon clubs, “to identify a champion within your club who will lead in rallying members to sign up. Our communities need us now more than ever.”

They also encourage Rotary clubs and individual Rotarians to register on the Volunteer Connector website.

“By registering your club and by encouraging your members to register on Volunteer Connector, you can remain connected and support your community during this time of physical distancing,” the DGs wrote. “Members can browse current volunteer opportunities. Clubs can also post volunteer opportunities on this platform to amplify efforts that they may be already undertaking.”

A digital launch of Rotary’s involvement with Volunteer Connector, featuring a special guest from Volunteer Connector, is scheduled for Wednesday, June 10 at 5:00 p.m. MDT. Click here to register.

Two tip sheets have been prepared by Volunteer Connector—one for Rotary clubs and one for individual Rotarian volunteers. These have been posted on the Rotary District 5370 website.

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“Not letting a pandemic stop us:” Rotary clubs and COVID-19

Over the past few weeks, we have described how clubs within District 5370 have been thriving in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We plan to continue to write these articles as long as Rotary and Rotaract clubs continue to share their stories of creativity and innovation.

Share your club’s pandemic story with the rest of our District by emailing it to communications@Rotary5370.com.

In this article, we describe how the annual gala of the Rotary Club of Camrose became virtual and how the Rotary Club of Edmonton Glenora has committed to a new service project each month.

Camrose’s virtual gala success 

“The organizing committee of the Camrose Rotary Club Annual Gala decided we were not about to the let the current COVID-19 pandemic keep us from holding our annual gala,” says Rotarian Celia Leathwood. “It just had to be a bit different this year, so we opted for a virtual gala.”

The online event was held May 9.

“It went really well. We took in $17,000 in cash donations. Our regular gala, which requires much more work to organize the meal, silent auction and other aspects of the evening, usually brings in $30,000,” Celia says.

“By comparison, this year required a minimal amount of work. The most difficult part was wrapping our minds around the idea that it would be virtual.”

The club was able to attract 11 corporate sponsors, each of which donated the equivalent of what they would have spent to purchase a table.

“Others, including many Rotarians, calculated what they would likely have spent for tickets and the purchase of silent auction items and donated that money to the club,” Celia says.

The club took a soft-sell approach with potential sponsors and attendees. 

“There was no push to get people to buy tickets. It was not the right time to ask,” Celia says. “Some businesses are doing well. Others aren’t. If they were unable to support us this year, we understood.”

Celia says there was good support from community members, providing the club with what it needs to support its community projects, which include the cadets, food bank and women’s shelter. 

“They trust Rotary. They know the money we raise goes back into the community,” Celia says. “Because of their support, we will still be able to help them out, into the next year.”

On the evening of the gala, virtual attendees made or ordered meals which they ate during the event, accompanied by wine supplied by the club.

“President Roy Wallace won the club’s wine survivor raffle earlier this year, but doesn’t drink, so he donated his winnings to the club,” Celia says. “Two members delivered bottles to the homes of everyone who was participating.”

Edmonton Glenora: Responding quickly with new ways to serve

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Incoming public image chair Catherine Keill says the Rotary Club of Edmonton Glenora moved quickly to adjust to the restrictions imposed on it as the result of the government of Alberta declaring a medical state of emergency.

“We immediately responded to the March 11 pandemic declaration and the government of Alberta’s measures by moving to Zoom Coffee Chats within about a week of the shutdown,” she says. 

“Our first session we held before the end of March, with Dr. Lorne Tyrell, founder of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology (and one of our club members) on what COVID-19 and the coronavirus is, how it impacts the body and work being done on vaccines. 

“In the early days, this information and education was helpful for our members in  understanding the pandemic situation,” she says.

The club has used its weekly newsletter to provide resources to support people working through the pandemic—information on mental health, working from home, stay-at-home entertainment and social connection ideas. 

“We aim to provide our members and friends with information to empower them,” Catherine says.

To ensure that members remain connected and committed to Rotary’s “Service Above Self” motto, the club has identified an activity to carry out each month.

In April, Rotarians wrote letters and notes of support to patients in treatment at the Cross Cancer Institute.

“While patients cannot have family or visitors during their treatment, our club connected with the Alberta Cancer Foundation and created these messages of support and friendship to keep their spirits high during a low time,” Catherine says. 

“These messages were scanned and we compiled them, emailed them to our contact and they were printed and delivered to patients for the Easter holiday.”

May was QuaranTREATS month.

“Club members (a.k.a. QuaranTEERS) baked and individually wrapped cookies, muffins, banana bread and other baked goods for delivery to the shift workers at the EXPO Centre,” she says. 

The conference centre is being used for the temporary accommodation of homeless individuals where physical distancing requirements can be observed.

“The frontline workers at the EXPO Centre are there in shifts, 24/7 and have been since this pandemic began. The treats and messages of support were our chance to send our thanks to them for their efforts supporting our community’s most vulnerable citizens,” Catherine says. 

“We are now embarking on our next service mission—‘Cups of Compassion’ for Operation Friendship Society. The society supports homeless seniors and each year they go through thousands of coffee mugs and a lot of coffee and tea. 

“So in June, we are collecting all kinds of coffee mugs, tea and coffee,” Catherine says. “Who doesn’t have a few extra coffee mugs around that they don’t use or need anymore?”  

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Glenora community services chair and president-elect Alyson Connolly prepares to deliver treats to staff at Edmonton’s EXPO Centre.

Through a new alliance with Toastmasters, Rotarians have access to online leadership and communications courses

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An alliance announced earlier this year between Rotary International and Toastmasters International will create a new Rotary and Rotaract membership benefit.

“There is tremendous value in the alliance with Toastmasters. We cannot underestimate the power of this partnership for the common purpose of doing good in the world,” District Governor Tracey Vavrek says. 

“This alliance provides members of  Toastmasters with the opportunity to learn more about Rotary, our values and how we serve together to make a positive impact for others.”

Toastmasters International is a non-profit, educational organization with more than 16,800 clubs in 143 countries. Since 1924, it has helped its members become more effective speakers, communicators and leaders through a worldwide network of clubs much like Rotary.

“Toastmasters offers organized professional and leadership skill development that leads to confidence as an individual. Combined with our values, service and fellowship, we strengthen personally, plus our organizations are stronger,” Tracey says.

Toastmasters will develop eight online courses, the first two of which are already available in the Rotary Leadership Centre:

Develop a speech — Learn how to write compelling speeches that take into account your topic, audience and goal.

Deliver a speech — Explore the effect your voice and body language can have on your audience.

On its website, RI says that, “These courses include assignments to help you put your new skills into practice and peer evaluations to help you grow through collaboration. It may take a little longer to complete these courses than some of the courses in the Learning Center, but we believe it’s worth it.”

The remaining courses will be available before the end of 2020 and will have titles such as Inspirational Speech, Interpersonal Communication, Leadership Basics, Leading a Team, Leadership: Collaboration, and Inclusive Leadership.

Check out this brief video to learn more about these courses.

All Rotarians and Rotaractors with My Rotary accounts may access these courses.

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PGE and Athabasca Landing Toastmasters Club president Jim Ferguson presents award during Toastmasters meeting

District Governor-Elect Jim Ferguson knows from first-hand experience the value of the Toastmaster leadership and public speaking program.

“When I was selected as the District Governor for 2020 – 2021, I realized that one of the skills needed for the DG role was to be an effective public speaker,” he says.

“Unlike our ‘terra’ clubs, I’ve been in the virtual world for seven years as a charter member of the Rotary E-Club of Canada One, so standing in front of people and delivering a speech was pretty foreign to me.

“I checked out and then joined the Athabasca Landing Toastmasters Club in the spring of 2019,” says Jim, who is currently the president of the club, which meets in Athabasca.

“I’ve found the Toastmasters program to be a really supportive way to learn the drafting, creating and delivering of a speech in a club environment,” he says. “While I consider myself still very much a novice in public speaking, and am still learning, I feel that Toastmasters is a great way to learn communication skills.”

Here are some suggestions from the My Rotary site on ways you and your club can get involved with this alliance:

  • Find a Toastmasters club near you and arrange a visit.
  • Welcome Toastmasters members to your club so they can learn more about Rotary and Rotaract.
  • Invite a Toastmasters member to be a guest speaker at your meeting or to participate in an upcoming service project.
  • Explore ways to work with your local Toastmasters club.
  • Raise awareness about this alliance by sharing the news with your club and with Toastmaster clubs that may not be aware that we are working together.

Clubs during a pandemic: Finding new ways to serve; virtual events and studies shifted online

Suspending its Friday morning breakfast meeting and switching to Zoom meetings had an unanticipated benefit for the Rotary Club of St. Albert.

“One really nice part of having online meetings is that we have been joined by visiting Rotarians, former Rotarians who have moved away, and some of our former inbound and outbound exchange students and their families,” writes club president Ann Ramsden. “Our theme that ‘Rotary Connects the World’ is alive and well on Friday mornings in St. Albert.”

While the pandemic disrupted the club’s plans for a 30th anniversary celebration scheduled for March, it prompted Rotarians to find new ways to serve in their community in the face of COVID-19.

“At the beginning of the Rotary year, we established a committee to look for a 30th anniversary project,” Ann says. “In February, we had no clear frontrunner and in April we decided to change the focus and formed a task force to look at what the club could do in the community in response to COVID-19. We are aware of not only the immediate needs in our community, but we are all looking at longer-terms needs that are going to arise due to the effect of COVID-19 and the recession that will follow.

“Members of our club are volunteering at the local food bank as they look at different ways to distribute the increasing number of food hampers.”

Virtual Pints for Polio

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Knowing that the campaign to end polio now must continue despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, Rotarians in Dawson Creek have organized a virtual fundraiser which Rotarians across the District are invited to attend. The virtual Pints for Polio event will be held Wednesday evening, May 20, between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. MDT.  

The virtual pub will feature performers from Newfoundland and Los Angeles. 

“I’m excited about doing this,” says Rotarian Shirley Viens. “Music connects us and inspires us, especially during times like we are in right now.”

Attendance is limited to 100, so early advanced registration is recommended.

Global Grant scholar will complete studies from home

COVID-19 meant Rotary Global Scholar Kassia Fardoe had to make a decision. Would she remain in England, where she was enrolled in the London School of Economics, or would she return to Edmonton?

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 12.50.58 PM“LSE had said that anyone who wanted to was absolutely OK to go, and that they would be moving things online,” Kassia says. “Even exams were guaranteed to be done in a way that would be accessible to everyone, no matter where they were in the world.”

After discussions with her parents, several Rotarians and her school, Kassia decided she would return home. The initial response of the British government also factored into her decision.

“While I was there, [British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson began discussing doing pretty much nothing and aiming for a herd immunity strategy,” Kassia says. “Since I have come home, they have reversed on that strategy and did implement a proper lockdown, but it did scare me a bit that the UK government seemed to be all over the place in terms of what they were doing.”

The approximately 750 students living in the residence where Kassia stayed while in London represented close to 100 countries.

“Goodenough College was founded after World War II, initially as a thank you to Commonwealth countries. At first, only students from Commonwealth countries were allowed to live in the building but now anybody can stay there,” Kassia says. “Over the years, they have had students from every country in the world, although the vast majority are students from Commonwealth countries and from the U.S.

“With the Rotary Global Grant scholars, all the Canadians chose to go and all the Americans chose to stay,” Kassia says. “It makes me thankful to be a citizen of Canada. I felt that Canada was best equipped to deal with this situations, while Americans felt very much the opposite, and this was before the U.S. is in the situation it is today.”

Back in Canada, Kassia has just completed her final exams, which wrapped up her course work and she will now be working to complete a dissertation. 

“This program is made up of three-quarters course work and the last quarter will be one big written project.”

For that part of her program, she will be looking at the flaws in conservation humanitarianism.

“Neocolonialism and a colonialism framework of humanitarianism and mission projects and conservationism has been criticized for a very long time,” Kassia say. “You have seen that now there is a rise in people speaking out against unsustainable volun-tourism, for example. 

“This is something that Rotary does a very good job at, because much of what Rotary takes on is very, very sustainable because clubs take on different areas that they work on for a very long time.”

If circumstances permit, Kassia hopes to be able to return to London.England is starting to open up a little. We will see how things go,” she says. “If I could go back for the late summer or whatever, I would like to go back for a while.”

Virtual cooking, a virtual walk in Yellowknife

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rotary Club of Yellowknife True North is finding ways to remain connected with its community and raise funds to support projects.

The club is hosting virtual cooking classes with Chef Ajay Chauhan, which Rotarian Cameron Twa says, “have been quite successful.”

The Rotarians and non-Rotarians who attended the class on April 19 learned to make vegan butter chicken. A month later, on May 9,  hara bhara, green vegetarian kebab on a burger bun with fresh mint chutney, was on the menu.

Participants were asked to preregister, after which they were sent a shopping list and advance preparation instructors. They were also asked to contribute toward a True North community project.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 12.49.21 PM“At the moment, we are working on building a bridge to the historic Black Bay Cemetery,” Cameron says.

“It is likely we will do more sessions, with a goal of eventually integrating an in-person component, as well,” he says.

Information on future classes will be announced to Rotarians across the District through the CONNECTIONS newsletter.

Another pandemic-related challenge was how to hold a five kilometre walk during a pandemic. Well, if you are the Rotary Club of Yellowknife True North, you make it a virtual event.

“This year, with social distancing a thing we could not host a traditional event. So we improvised to a virtual format,”  says Cameron. 

“This was a huge event for community. Two hundred and eighty people signed up and that’s 1.4 per cent of Yellowknife’s population. 

“There was no set distance, route or starting line. The starting line was virtual, through a zoom meeting,” says Cameron. “Ensuring people stayed distant and still were social was the tricky part. We encouraged people to wave, cheer and say hi to anyone out there, because it was likely they were part of the event.

“So that we were not doing an event for the sake of doing an event, we came up with an innovative theme — helping small business coffee shops,” Cameron says.

“All the coffee shops we helped are open, but their business models had to radically change. Bringing in revenue is difficult but they are finding ways. This could be through delivery, through catering or through partnerships with local grocery stores to sell beans.  

“Our biggest concern was that the staff who normally get tips because of the social side of a coffee shop experience were being hurt financially.”

Walkers raised $620 for each four coffee shops in gift cards and the rest in tips. 

Youth Connect replaces RYLE and RYPEN for 2020

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What emerged from the ashes when this spring’s RYLE (Rotary Youth Leadership Experience) and RYPEN (Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment) camps were scrapped due to COVID-19 was an initiative to connect youth virtually.

“When we had to make the decision to cancel both our RYLE and our RYPEN camp programs, both committees recognized there was still a need to connect with youth who would have attended the programs, given the current situation with COVID-19,” says District Young Leaders chair Yvone Joubert (Rotaract Club of MacEwan University).

The Youth Connect program ran two-days-a-week from early April until mid-May. 

Rotaractors as participants in RI’s International Assemblies-2“The teams brainstormed and came up with an opportunity to use technology that kids use every single day,” Yvone says. “We wanted to give youth within our District an opportunity to connect with Interact students and even students who aren’t in Interact.”

A plan was drawn up by the RYPEN and RYLE committees to offer students online games, video chat using Zoom and other activities.

“We spent time finding resources in different communities, whether that be connections to resources such as food banks or resources for mental health services in different communities across our District, because we recognize this is such a difficult time for young leaders and others, and recognizing that young people may not know where to go or who to turn to or how to even find something,” Yvone says. 

“There is also a Rotarian who is actively involved in the both the Rotary camps we run, who provided her contact information should someone need someone to talk to or need additional support,” Yvone says. “She would be able to connect them with someone in their area.”

“It has been mainly a Rotaractor in our District, Kira Eberts (University of Alberta Rotaract Club), who has really taken the lead on this project in particular, and has just kind of run with it,” says Yvone.

Over the six weeks it ran, the program evolved. “In the last couple of weeks, it has grown a little. On Saturdays, we have been hosting Q and A sessions,” Yvone says. “We have covered event planning for Interact students. We have also covered topics such as what university is like and what to expect when you are going into university.”

During the final session on Saturday, May 10, “there was a whole panel of Rotaractors covering topics from youth exchange to Interact and Rotaract.”

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May is Youth Month

Youth Connect was also an opportunity to share information about Rotary.

“The reason we were doing this was not just to talk Rotary all the time. We wanted kids to know this was an opportunity to get to know people and hang out with their friends online,” Yvone says. “It was just something to change their everyday routine, but we also let them know that we got to do what we got to do because of Rotary. Rotary has brought so much into our lives as Rotaractors.”

Both Yvone and Kira feel the Youth Connect program went well.

“We are both very happy with how it all turned out. People enjoyed it and it has given us an opportunity to connect with Interact students in the District that we would not normally have the opportunity to connect with. Overall, we have been happy with it and see it as a really good success.”

Clubs use Special COVID-19 District grants to address food security, other pandemic-related issues

Food Sharing Concept. Fighting With Overconsumption Background.

Tim Schilds (RC of Dawson Creek) felt overwhelmed by the quality of the applications clubs submitted for Special COVID-19 District grants. 

The former District Governor (2015-2016), who now chairs the District’s Foundation Committee, was responsible for reviewing the grant requests that came from clubs.

“I had a wonderful morning on the Sunday that I got to read all these,” he says. 

“I am always impressed by what our clubs are coming up with for ideas.”

At the beginning of the Rotary year, the District Foundation committee set aside money for a contingency fund which could be available for anything that might come up during the year.

The money that the District Foundation committee has at its disposal each year is based on the generosity of Rotarians three years earlier. Half the money donated to The Rotary Foundation’s annual fund is returned to the District in that time frame.

The District Foundation committee uses half the money it receives to support club-initiated Global Grant applications and the other half makes District grants to clubs possible. 

Half of the donations made in 2019-2020 will be available to the District in 2022-2023.

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Click here to donate to The Rotary Foundation.

When everything was going on with COVID-19, I had a discussion with the rest of my Foundation team and also with the District Governors—the current and the next two— about using this contingency fund and putting it out to the clubs to try to help them help in their local communities,” Tim says.

“I had been hearing from several clubs that they had identified issues, particularly with food security, and information that I been receiving was that the Indigenous community was threatened even more than the general community,” he says. 

Initially, there was enough money in the Foundation contingency for 11 grants of $500 each. Then one club contacted Tim to say that they were returning $1,000 from the District grant they had received earlier this year. 

“ ‘We over-applied by $1,000 because our math was wrong, so we will send you back the $1,000,’ ” they told Tim. 

“So that gave us $6,500 and we were going to do 13, but we ended up with 24 applications and they were all really good. So I took it to the District board and asked them if they would fund what has turned out to be an extra $4,500 and they agreed to that, so we are putting out a little over $11,000 in grants. That’s what’s going out.

 “The vast majority of (the requests) had something to do with food banks,” Tim says. But he cautioned clubs that, “it is not sufficient to simply make a donation to your local food bank and get a receipt from them.

“One of the requirements from The Rotary Foundation is that these have to have detailed receipts, so the detail can’t be that you gave $1,000 to a food bank. It would be that you bought the food and gave it to the food bank. It has to be a detailed receipt that shows all the food you bought and donated,” he says.

Here is a quick summary of a few of the projects that are being funded with Special COVID-19 District grants:

The Rotary Club of Morinville established an emergency food program with the Alexandra First Nation for elders in the community. “They put together a project for $1,000 to supply food and household products,” Tim says.

In Wainwright, Rotarians are “sponsoring two families that moved here from Mexico in January. They had barely got here and their jobs were put on hold,” Tim says. “They are buying food and household items for those two families so they can move forward.”

After submitting their original grant request, members of the Rotary Club of Edmonton Sunrise discovered another need that caused them to change plans. “They were going to do something for the food bank, but then they found out that children at one of the schools that they work with were going without food because lunch was their one meal of the day and they got that at school,” Tim says. “The Rotarians are supplying a lunch program that the school was providing for their students.”

“Edmonton Mayfield has budgeted $2,000 and they are having ultra-high efficiency masks produced which they will then supply to local long-term care centres so that the residents and staff can both be a little safer,” Tim says.

The Rotary Club of the Battlefords is putting its grant toward its commitment to spend $50,000 to help feed its community, which includes helping the Boys and Girls clubs to provide bagged lunches and providing funds to the Battlefords District Food and Resource Centre.

Both clubs in Camrose are working with Montana Cree First Nation. “Between them, they are suppling $2,000 to establish a food bank and also provide hygiene supplies for Montana First Nation,” Tim says.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton South is using its grant to support the work of the Youth Empowerment and Support Society, which works to provide temporary housing and support for youth aged 15-24.

Photo credit: http://www.bigstockphoto.com

Past Rotary Friendship Exchange participants praise program

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The four previous participants interviewed for this article are unanimous in their assessment of the value of Rotary Friendship Exchanges. It’s an experience worth having.

“It is a great way to meet people and to see things you would never see,” says Cheryl Nelson (RC of Jasper). “When you visit a country as a tourist, it is different than when you visit a country with people who take you to things you don’t get to see otherwise.”

Cheryl was one of about a dozen Rotarians and spouses who visited Belgium in 2016 and later hosted Belgium Rotarians who paid a return visit to our District.

Cheryl hopes to be selected to join another Friendship Exchange that is in the planning stage.

“I have my name down for Brazil. I would go on every one of them if it worked,” says Cheryl, who was also part of a Friendship Exchange to Turkey in 2012.

This exchange, with District 4521 in Brazil, was initially scheduled to begin this fall with a visit to our District by a group from Brazil, and with Canadians visiting the South American country in the midst of our next Canadian winter. The COVID-19 pandemic put those plans are on hold.

“The Brazilians are no longer coming to our district in September,” says Sean Draper (RC of Edmonton Northeast), who is co-ordinating the exchange for our District.  

“We are visiting Brazil—fingers crossed—next January or February and they will visit us in the summer of 2021.”

Information on the proposed exchange with Brazil can be found on the District website.

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Canadian Rotarians visited a World War I trench in Belgium

While in Europe, the exchange group visited different towns and cities, where they were hosted by Rotarians.

“We were gone two and a half weeks. We visited at least six or seven towns or cities,” says Donnelly Hart (RC of Jasper). “We were almost always hosted in the homes of fellow Rotarians and also attended their meetings. Most of them were in the evenings and involved dinner.

“They just took us into their homes, which apparently in Europe is not common. I think that in some of the places they were quite nervous about it at first and I think they felt it wasn’t something they normally do. But I think each had a very positive experience and they treated us with such incredible openness and included us in their family lives as well.” 

The Belgium hosts were accommodating of requests from their guests.

“They pulled out the stops to do whatever they could for us,” Lola says. “Frank and I had some graves we wanted to visit—family members who had lost their lives in World War I and a friend’s grandpa’s grave—and they made sure they knew where they were and  how to drive us there.”

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Visiting Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge

Says Donnelly Hart (RC of Jasper): “They planned an amazing amount of activities for us to do, visiting historical sites. We visited all the World War I important sites — trenches from World War I and monuments. They took us out into the fields to view statues and monuments that had been set up for the Canadian soldiers in World War II,” she says.

“It was especially pertinent to me because my father served for five, almost six years, in the army during the Second World War and several of the places we had visited on this trip were places he had been.”

Lola was concerned about what they could show the Belgians who came to Canada as the second part of the exchange.

“As they are showing you all this history, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to show them?’ We sort of worried about hosting,” she says. “Here we have such great distances, that they had quite a bit of driving to get from Edmonton to Grande Prairie and then over to Jasper, so they spent quite a bit of time on the road. 

“In Belgium, when we switched from one city or one club to the other, it could be like a 40-minute drive. But they loved our open spaces, our campfires. They live in all that history, so they are just happy to get out to the see the beauty of the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains.” 

Living in Jasper, Cheryl is used to hosting visiting Rotarians.

“I have hosted in my home so many Rotarians that I couldn’t begin to count them,” she says. “You have to open your heart and open your home to them coming back to you and give them everything you can, and you feel you can never equal what they have given you. And I think they feel the same way after they have been to your place. It’s an exchange of ideas and friendship.” 

Something that stood out for the group is the esteem in which Canadians are held by people in Belgium.

“Belgium is an incredible place for history and especially for how well they treat Canadians because of the Canadian Army involvement in their liberation,” says Lola.

Lola’s husband, Frank, who is also a member of the After Five club, explained why Belgians feel as they do.

“In World War II, the Canadians were on their way to liberate Holland and they got an order to free up a few cities in Belgium,” he says. “Every day we were in a different World War I or World War II setting that was related to Canadian participation in Belgium. It was quite enlightening and quite emotional.”

“There were a lot of ceremonies we went to that honoured our Canadian veterans,” says  Donnelly. 

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Canadian Rotarians under the Menin Gate in Ypres on November 11, 2016

The team was in Belgium on November 11 and attended the ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Since it opened in 1927, Belgians have gathered nightly at the Gate for a memorial ceremony. 

“They stop the traffic under the Menin Gate every night at 8 p.m. and play the Last Post,” Lola sys. 

“We had gone there one Wednesday, thinking that on the big Remembrance Day celebration there wouldn’t be any room under the Gate, but when the word got out that there were some Canadian Rotarians in town, they made room for us. We were right in the heart of that special ceremony.”

Cheryl says, “I was with a judge—a highly respected judge—who was the Rotarian who took us there. He said to me, ‘In all my years, this is the first time I have been able to be under the bridge, and that’s because I am with you Canadians. I am so happy to be here.’ It was such a surprise and humbling to be that honoured.”

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One of 420 beers available in Belgium put

For Frank, there was another highlight of the trip that had nothing to do with history or war memorials.

“You can’t beat the beer in Belgium,” he says. “We went to one bar or beer hall in Bruges that boasted 420 different beers from across Belgium and our host made sure that we got to taste lots of good abbey beer.”

“It’s amazing in those pubs,” Lola says. “If they served 400 beers, you didn’t get it in a glass that didn’t carry the logo of that beer.”

“The world’s first beer pipeline is in Bruges,” Frank says. “The main brewery is in the centre of town and it caused lots of traffic tie-ups when the beer trucks would come in, so they built this pipeline from the brewery just to the outside of the old town and everybody is more than happy about that.”

Photo Credits: Lola Wright