Inspired to action: District awards celebrate what clubs and Rotarians accomplished in 2018-2019

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2018-2019 DG Ingrid Neitsch and Rotarian-of-the-year recipient Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West)

So much was accomplished by clubs in our District during 2018-2019 that the committee that reviewed submissions felt it had to increase the number of awards in most award categories.

“Because there was such a difference in certain categories, we decided to recognize more than one project in these categories,” says Donna Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast), who as the Administrative Services chair assembled a board committee to decide which clubs would receive awards.

“It wasn’t a case of picking a winner,” Donna says of the committee’s deliberations. “Rather it was a case of recognizing outstanding work in certain areas.”

During the Changeover event held on June 27, 2018-2019 DG Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) presented awards to 11 clubs and several individuals who demonstrated their commitment to “Be the Inspiration.”

She also announced that the District was the recipient of a North American award for its youth programs.

Community, international and youth service awards

Multiple Gilbert Patterson Awards were presented in three service categories—community, international and youth.

Gilbert Paterson was a Lethbridge educator who served as governor for District 536 in 1959-60, long before the District was divided and District 5370 was created. 

The Rotary Clubs of Edmonton Southeast and Fort St. John received awards for their community service projects.

For several years, Edmonton Southeast has partnered with the Millbourne Laundromat to host a community Thanksgiving luncheon for disadvantaged persons from Edmonton’s Mill Woods area. This annual event now feeds more than 1,000 each year. 

The Mother’s Day Run, which the Fort St. John club initiated in 2012, has raised more than $78,500 in donations for the Women’s Resource Society. The Society provides crisis planning, housing support, an outreach store, and healing and advocacy support to empower women and girls with tools to improve the quality of their lives.

Both international service awards went to projects that were described in Rotary District 5370 News articles during 2018-2019.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 1.10.56 PMFor more than 20 years, a team of Rotarians from Edmonton West and others have visited remote Guatemalan communities to conduct eye examinations, provide glasses and medication for eye infections.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview acquires and refurbishes ambulances retired from service by Alberta Health Services, which are  destined for communities in Belize, Mexico, Uganda and Ghana. During 2018-2019, two of these vehicles were part of the Highway to Mexico convoy organized by Rotary clubs in Grande Prairie.

Youth services awards were presented to the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton South and Edmonton Northeast.

The flute making program at Abbott School, supported by Edmonton Northeast, is a way to help children improve their concentration, patience, self-confidence and co-ordination. The club pays for the materials and Rotarians assist the students as they decorate their instruments.

Rotarians from Edmonton South supported the Alberta Future Leaders program for Indigenous youth in Driftpile First Nation in Northwest Alberta. The AFL program engages youth through sports, art, recreation, leadership and cultural activities.

Peacebuilder award went to Dawson Creek Sunrise

Ingrid, who launched the successful initiative to have our District become a Rotary Peacebuilder District in 2018-2019, presented a Peacebuilder award to the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise, which was “involved in the development and promotion of peace building activities with high school students in their community,” Ingrid said.

Club president Michelle Rolls and District Youth Chair Tamara Larson accompanied a group of 17 students to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights to participate in a week-long national pilot program.

Three clubs were recognized for their efforts related to public relations and marketing.

The Rotary Club of St. Albert produced brochures, posters and videos to publicize, “what Rotary is all about and what we do in the community.” The club feels their public relations and marketing has had tangible results, including membership growth and increased community involvement in fundraising and other activities.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Whyte Avenue produced a brochure and used social media to share success stories, promote events and increase the visibility of Rotary. The club also produced a number of videos to create awareness of activities and promote events.

During 2018-2019, the Rotary Club of Edmonton Glenora undertook a comprehensive strategic planning initiative to study how they were living out the club’s vision and the mission of their club. They asked themselves what was distinctive about the club and what could they do to remain relevant. This process led to refreshing the club’s vision, mission statement and value proposition.

Rotary Club of Edmonton received Governors Award

T1819EN_RGBOne submission stood out as being deserving of the Governor’s Award. In 2013, the Rotary Club of Edmonton embarked on a major multi-year Humanitarian International Project in partnership with Literacy Without Borders and the Rotary Club of Belize. The South Belize City Literacy Development Program focused on transforming the educational and school-community infrastructure in an impoverished area known as South Belize City.

Ingrid also announced that our District had received an award from the North American Youth Exchange Network. The NAYEN awards recognizes, “districts that participate enthusiastically, conduct activities that are best practices and strive to build strong programs in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.”

Youth Service Chair Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue) accepted the award on the District’s behalf.

Awards recognizing individual service

A number of special awards were presented to individual Rotarians.

Two longtime Rotarians from District 5370 were among 16 recipients worldwide of the Polio Plus Pioneer Awards, which recognizes Rotarians who made a significant non-financial contribution to Polio Plus prior to 1992.

Albert Miller and Walter Sczebel, honorary members of the Rotary Clubs of Westlock and Morinville respectively, were recognized for having increased the awareness of Rotary’s commitment to eradicating polio by organizing a journey by wagon train from Westlock to the 1988 District 536 Conference in Calgary. Both were members of the Westlock club at the time.

The two covered wagons, which were accompanied by outriders, cooks, support personal, and an iron lung on a flatbed, stopped at community halls and schools to raise awareness of the polio eradication program.

Along the way, the convoy raised more than a million dollars for Polio Plus.

Four Rotarians, who Ingrid described as “working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the District runs smoothly,” each were presented with a Paul Harris Fellowship:

  • For the last six years, Carl Clayton (RC of Edmonton Northeast) has served as District Board Secretary, which involves keeping accurate minutes and chairing business meeting at the District’s Special General Assemblies.
  • For several years, Rob Dunseith (RC of Edmonton West) has “provided free service on legal matters, resulting in savings of thousands of dollars,” Ingrid said.
  • John Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast) was instrumental in helping with the move of the District office from the Boys and Girls Club to The Orange Hub.
  • Donna Nichol, as the District’s Administration Director, was responsible in planning the office move.

Award recognized success of club co-presidency

Woman of Inspiration awards were presented to two Rotarians who served as co-presidents of their clubs. While other clubs may have had co-presidents in the past, Jillene Lakevold and Alyssa Haunholter (RC of Edmonton Glenora) took “the co-presidency to a whole new level,” Ingrid said.

“They have led their club into Strategic Planning that has confirmed the mission of their club and provided a clear path moving forward, all while raising young children and pursuing their careers!”

Ingrid recognized two Past District Governors, “who have not gone into retirement from Rotary” with Outstanding Service to the District Awards.

Since being District Governors in 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 respectively, both Jackie Hobal (RC of Edmonton West) and Linda Robertson (RC of Edmonton Northeast) “have been mentors to many of our leaders and continued to be active supporters of our District programs and events, serving on the Board and on several committees,” Ingrid said.

“In addition to their exemplary service to our District, both have served as Zone Co-ordinators, working with Rotarians from 16 or 17 other Districts across our country.”

Wayne Kauffman (RC of Edmonton Riverview), who stepped down at the end of June after four years as chair of the District’s Rotary Foundation committee, was presented with a Rotary Foundation District Service Award.

“Most Foundation chairs serve a three-year term, but I persuaded Wayne to serve an extra year,” Ingrid said. “He has provided exemplary service and leadership as chair, ensuring that our District meets and exceeds RI requirements for Foundation work.”

The final award of year was presented to Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West) as the 2018-2019 Rotarian-of-the-Year.

“The individual that I have chosen to receive this special award is someone who has committed the last three years to serving and working in important roles in our District, culminating in a special event this year,” Ingrid said. “He has served as Club President, Club Foundation Chair, Assistant Governor and District Conference Chair.”

The deadline for submissions for 2019-2020 club awards is May 15, 2020.

DG Tracey prepared to begin her 2019-2020 journey

Someone once said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.

For new District Governor Tracey Vavrek, her journey to visit the clubs in our District will be much longer—an estimated 33,000 km. 

And the first “step” will involve driving approximately 1,200 km from her home in Grande Prairie to Yellowknife, in a Toyota Highlander which is nicknamed Amelia Kind Heart. Each word of that name was chosen for a reason.

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“First off, Amelia suggests strength, a voyageur, and it means someone who has been working hard,” Tracey says. Also, “Amelia was my grandmother’s name. She was a very special person to me, who took me under her wing and guided me through life.”  

Regarding the second part of the name, Kind, Tracey says, “I believe that gratitude and kindness can change the world and what we do as Rotarians is offer kindness. We offer kindness to each other in fellowship and friendship and we offer kindness through local projects and the work we do around the world. 

“Every time you see the Rotary wheel, you also reflect on someone who has provided service. That service was given through kindness and care.” 

The final word is represented by the graphic of a heart. “It represents the love we all share together and we know that’s key for the essential of Rotary continuing.”

Tracey, Vince and their family

Accompanying Tracey on her journey, which will take until late November to complete, will be Vince, her husband and fellow member of the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie After Five, who has just completed a year as club president.

Tracey and Vince have been together for 20 years and between them have raised a blended family of four, now-adult children. “We are passionate about community and giving and we have raised our children with that concept,” she says. 

tracyvince.jpg“The unfortunate thing is that none of them live in the North anymore. They are all in southern Alberta. It hurts that they are all so far away, but we appreciate any time we get together.”

They also have one four-year-old granddaughter, Olivia who attended the June 27 District Changeover Event with her mother.

Vince grew up in the Grande Prairie and Tracey moved there 27 years ago for work. For the last 18 years, she has been the executive director/CEO of the Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta.

“In this role I am very fortunate to be able to work with wonderful individuals from our community, from social services groups to service organizations such as Rotary, with government and educational institutions to strengthen the community,” Tracey says.

She believes that there is a good fit between her job and being a Rotarian.

“Rotarians are very focused on helping to do good in our local communities and internationally and at the Community Foundation I am very fortunate that I do this every day and then I have the opportunity as a Rotarian to do it in my volunteer job,” she says.

Taking advantage of Rotary’s increased flexibility

Thanks to the flexibility Rotary International now gives District governors and thanks to technology, Tracey will be able to continue her work with the foundation, while also fulfilling her role as District governor.

“This is what is wonderful about the changes that Rotary International made. Rotary International has added more flexibility to the District governor’s position to allow the governor to continue to work full time during their year,” Tracey says. 

“I will be able to continue in my role but working out of my car. I will have a temporary office established in my vehicle. It will include my laptop, Wi-Fi, and my printer. I will continue to maintain my responsibilities as the CEO of the foundation, but also be able to meet my responsibilities as the governor to connect with all the great people throughout our District.”

Some of the flexibility afforded District governors is the relaxation of some of the previous requirements, which includes not having to meet with each club separately. “Maybe you can do some collective meetings. Or maybe  there are opportunities to change the style of the meeting. To do what is right for the Rotarians and clubs, and also for the District governor” Tracey says. “Based on that, I do have a few communities where we will be hosting collective meetings together. So far, all our clubs and members have been very positive in responding and sharing and some have asked, ‘Can we do more together? Can we not only have our governor’s meeting, but also do some social things and community work together?’ ”

It’s through her foundation work that Tracey learned about Rotary. She was working with someone from the city of Grande Prairie, who was also a Rotarian. 

“He said, ‘You know,  with all your passion for the community, you might want to consider coming to a Rotary meeting.’ I can tell you, that was the start of an amazing journey. I attended my first Rotary meeting, the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie Sunrise. I became a member not long after that.”

That was 2006 and in 2010-2011 she became president of the Sunrise Club. Later, she moved over to the After Five for scheduling and availability reasons.

“That’s the wonderful thing about Rotary. There’s that flexibility. Find what is the right place for the Rotarian. It’s OK to move. It’s OK to make a shift if you need to,” Tracey says.

In addition to being a club president, Tracey served for three years as an assistant governor and has been a member of the District’s membership and foundation committees. She has also been part of a number of service projects.

Participation in service projects

“I am very fortunate to have been a driver for the Highway to Mexico project in 2012. That project brings essential equipment—fire trucks, ambulances, school supplies, wheelchairs, medical supplies—down to communities in the Mazatlan area, including remote communities that don’t have access to these resources. 

“It was quite a journey, travelling from northern Alberta. Eight days of driving, pulling into Mazatlan very late at night and being able to deliver this equipment and these items to that community.”

In her own community, Tracey has participated in projects in support of the local food bank drive. “We literally bring in tons and tons of food every year to support the food banks in Grande Prairie and the surrounding area. It’s an excellent project, supported by all the clubs in the area, including the Rotaract Club, our Interact Club and our Early-act club.”

More recently, Tracey was part of a Project Amigo program, which involved several past and future DGs who spent a volunteer week in Mexico. 

“Truly, it was life-changing to be on the ground in Mexico and meet with families in very remote and tough places and to be able to offer them hope and to help children reach their academic goals. It’s a gift that we can do that,” she says. 

“It was very humbling to experience that journey and that adventure and in my heart I will never forget the feeling of what I felt when I was down there.”

A commitment to leadership

Tracey sees her role as District governor as one of leadership, rather than management. 

“There is a difference between management and leadership. Management is when you have the opportunity just to have a systems of checks and balances in place and to keep moving things along. Leading and holding the role of District governor is truly about inspiring and engaging our great Rotarians and also helping others to understand what Rotary is about. 

“I believe it’s important that we grow Rotary and that we connect Rotary clubs at a stronger level with their own communities, but also at the international level,” Tracey says. 

“Just imagine if we can increase the presence of Rotary by sharing and inspiring others. That’s what I am really excited about. We know that people have dreams. People have dreams to connect and do more for others. When we connect the dreams of people who desire to serve with the dreams of the people who are in need … wow! That’s amazing. I am really excited to be able to sit down, to have conversations with people, to hear about their dreams and look at ways we can continue to do what we are doing and do more,” Tracey says.

“I am truly, truly honoured today to be able to step into the role of District governor. There is a little bit of nervousness coming in as well. It is a key role in helping Rotary to go forward at the District level and for Rotary International. I don’t take it lightly. I am excited. I am honoured and I am humbled,” Tracey says.

“I believe we have one of the best Districts in the world. Look at the impact of our District, from our local work to our international work.”

This month, Highway to Mexico will deliver its 100th vehicle—plus vehicles #97-99 and 101-106

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Fire shuttle van will be the 100th vehicle to be delivered to Mazatlan through the Highway to Mexico program since 2002

Later this week, Rotarians from our District will arrive in Mazatlan with what has been designated as the 100th vehicle to be delivered to the city and the Mexican state of Sinaloa since Highway to Mexico began in 2002 with a single school bus filled with wheelchairs. 

Vehicle number 100—a former hotel shuttle that has been repurposed to become a fire support shuttle—is one of 10 vehicles in this year’s convoy, which left Grande Prairie on March 29.

“I think it an incredible achievement to keep this project sustainable and to keep people involved and to be able to raise the funds we require to do this, year after year,” says Felix Seiler (Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City), who is making his 12th or 13th trip to Mexico.

This year’s convoy, which was described in a recent article by Edmonton Journal columnist Nick Lees, and also in an interview on CBC’s Radio Active, includes two fire trucks, four ambulances, three school buses and the fire support shuttle, bringing the total number of vehicles delivered since the program began to 106.

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Loading wheelchairs from Alberta Health Services

Eighty-five per cent of the vehicles delivered by Highway to Mexico are still in service. 

Knowing that the residents of this part of Mexico have better access to emergency transportation and fire protection because of this program is a source of pride for the Rotarians who have been part of Highway to Mexico over the years.

“You can’t miss it. You see the Rotary name on these vehicles whenever they pass by,” Felix says.

“You get immediate gratification when you realize each of these vehicles will be in use for years to come.” 

The Highway to Mexico was recognized with the Gilbert Paterson Award for International Service during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018.

Several awards for international, community and youth services will be presented at this year’s changeover event on Thursday, June 27, at the Chateau Louis Hotel in Edmonton. The deadline for submitting entries for the 2018-2019 awards is May 15.

The vehicles come from various sources. The fire shuttle vehicle was donated by the hotel where it formerly served as a hotel shuttle. The two fire trucks were purchased at auctions by Rotary clubs. 

IMG_1292Two ambulances were part of eight obtained from Alberta Health Services, while another was donated by an oilfield ambulance service. The school buses were purchased from school systems through sealed bids. Other vehicles were purchased by individuals in order to donate them to the project.

Once they obtain vehicles, Rotary clubs arrange to have them refurbished. In addition to the Swan City club, other clubs involved in this year’s Highway to Mexico include the Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie, Grande Prairie After Five, Peace River, Edson and Edmonton Riverview.

Several other clubs have participated in the project in previous years.

Getting these vehicles to Mexico required a great deal of organization, which began long before they left Grande Prairie.

“It is almost like on ongoing project,” Felix says. “We are already in the process of collecting vehicles for next year.  Six months out, we begin to do paperwork with our Mexican colleagues. It’s very time-consuming.”

Each of this year’s 20 drivers—two for each vehicle—received a detailed itinerary for the 5,000 km journey, identifying everything from the order in which the vehicles will travel (“All vehicles will travel in the same position in the convoy until we reach Mazatlan”) and speed at which they will travel (“The convoy should travel around 95-100 km per hour, depending on the slowest vehicle in the convoy”), to where the convoy will stop to refuel and where the drivers will sleep each night.

There is also advice on crossing the two borders they will encounter.

“Crossing the U.S. border is not as much of a challenge as it once was,” Felix says, explaining all the necessary paperwork is in place before the journey begins.

Entering Mexico at Nogales can be a different story. 

“Every year, it’s a new experience. Crossing the Mexican border can take from two to 14 hours,” Felix says.

“We usually have a pool (US$10 each) on how long it will take to cross the border. The winner is usually responsible for beer at a later date.”

Rotarians from Mexican clubs meet the convey each year at the border for the final segment of the journey.

Referring to these Rotarians, Felix says, “We have made lots of good personal friends over the years.”

While the Canadian Rotary clubs obtain the vehicles, Mexican Rotarians decide where they will go.

“They go through an application process. The organizations requesting vehicles need to prove that they have the resources necessary to keep the vehicles on the road.”

Once they reach Mazatlan, the Canadians will park the vehicles and head to their hotel in the Golden Zone, before participating in activities over the next few days organized by local Rotarians.

Then it will be time to fly home to begin preparations for the 2020 version of Highway to Mexico.

Edmonton Rotarian revives and donates old ambulances to to Belize, Mexico and Africa

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Ambulances waiting to be refurbished by Alberta Honda

Some people collect coins. Others fill albums with postage stamps from around the world. But not Roman Bayrock (RC of Edmonton Riverview). He collects ambulances.

So far, he has obtained 11 of these life-saving vehicles, after they have been retired by Alberta Health Services. 

Once these ambulances are refurbished, they are designated for developing countries where the need for them is great.

Assisting people in this fashion gives Roman “a rush. It’s like winning the lottery. I feel great helping people,” he says.

Roman, who describes himself as “a bit of an opportunist, with a talent for bargain hunting,” purchased his first ambulance by chance, when he discovered it listed for sale on an auction site. 

“I figured that not too many people would be interested,” he recalls. “I wondered how cheaply I could buy it.”

 But first, he contacted the Belize Emergency Response Team.

“I called BERT and asked, ‘If I could find you an ambulance cheap, would you be interested?’ They were.”

That first ambulance was shipped to Belize in 2016.

Since then, two more ambulance have gone to Belize. One went to the village of Dangriga, in the Southern Health Region, and the other to Southern Emergency Service, which was started in the Southern Health Region by a former Spruce Grove resident.

This last ambulance was delivered to Belize with the assistance of the US Air Force, through the Denton Program, which is jointly administered by several US government departments and agencies.

“The Denton program offers shipment of ‘humanitarian assistance’ in the form of utility trucks, fire trucks, ambulances, etc., to locations in North American at virtually no charge when space is available,” Roman says.

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Sandra and Roman Bayrock 

At the end of August, Roman and his wife Sandra, who is also a member of Edmonton Riverview, drove the ambulance to the Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. There the ambulance was loaded onto a C-5 Hercules transport for the flight to Belize.

Prior to departing for Montana, Roman held a media event at Alberta Honda in Edmonton, which stores and refurbishes the ambulances.

“Without Alberta Honda, we would not have a space to store these ambulances and no source for parts, tires and batteries,” Roman says.

Once Alberta Honda has refurbished the remaining ambulances, they will be shipped to other developing countries. Four will go to Belize, two to Africa and two to Mexico, as part of the Highway to Mexico program organized by the Rotary Club of  Grande Prairie-Swan City.

This convoy of ambulances, fire trucks and other vehicles will depart for Mazatlan on March 29. Members of the Edson Rotary Club, which is paying to refurbish this vehicle, will drive one ambulance on the two-week journey. Roman and Sandra will drive the second.

Two ambulances will be going to Southern Emergency Services Belize, two to the Believe in Belize Charity in Pacencia, and one each to Faith Prestige Hospital in Ghana and to Arms Across Africa for use in Uganda.

The organizations receiving ambulances are responsible for all costs associated with refurbishing and transportation of the vehicles.

Before the Riverview club releases vehicles to other groups, the potential recipients are required to complete a questionnaire developed by Dean Wood, the club’s International Services director. 

“The purpose of the questionnaire was to get the organizations to make a series of commitments and demonstrate they have the capacity to operate and maintain the vehicle to ensure they will provide a quality and sustainable service,” Dean says.

“We asked them to commit to provide services to all residents of the areas, without regard to their ability to pay,” he says. “We believe that making the service available to all reflects a core Rotary value.”

Finally, each organization was asked to demonstrate a partnership with a local Rotary club.