Spring 2019 Leadership Assembly prepared incoming club leaders for the next Rotary year

This spring’s Leadership Assembly (March 8 and 9) was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of 2018-2019 and set the table for the next Rotary year, which begins on July 1.

Approximately 175 Rotarians attended this event, including District leaders and club presidents-elect and members of their leadership teams, including for the first time, the presidents-elect of Rotary Clubs of Whitehorse and Whitehorse Rendezvous. 

Effective July 1, these two Yukon clubs will become part of District 5370.

District Governor-Elect Tracey Vavrek used the assembly to introduce the 2019-2020 theme set by incoming Rotary International President Mark Maloney (RC of Decatur, Alabama): Rotary Connects the World.

Watch as Mark announces the theme to DGEs at the International Assembly in San Diego in January and read about the course he has mapped out for Rotary’s future in an interview in the March 2019 issue of The Rotarian.

“When you reflect on the theme, what comes to mind?” Tracey asked.

T1920EN_PMS-C“For me, it is that we share values and follow the Four-Way Test, we collectively take action for a better world, and we are doing this together,” she said.

“We connect with friends we would never otherwise have met. Rotary connects us to people who need our help and through Rotary we are connected globally through countless projects and programs.”

“The world needs Rotary. As you reflect on the unrest and challenges around the world, it is concerning. We know the work we do and our service do create peace within families, communities and around the world. By bringing fresh water to a community, we bring peace and economic wellbeing to the individuals living there.”

Tracey referred to being part of the Project Amigo work week in mid-February with past and future District Governors as “an example of how we connect with others. It’s life-changing—we are helping people reach their dreams.”

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DGE Tracey Vavrek introduced the 2019-2020 theme during Spring Leadership Assembly

She also asked participants in the assembly to imagine a world without Rotary. “Imagine what would happen with polio if we stopped now. Imagine the people who would go hungry in our own communities and around the world. Imagine the children who would not have extra support to reach their dreams. The children of today and of tomorrow need Rotary.”

Continue to grow Rotary

Tracey asked participants to think about how to grow Rotary.

“Membership is a critical topic,” she said, noting the importance of attracting younger people to Rotary. “Only five per cent of Rotary members are under the age of 40.”

“Few organizations span generations and professions and build personal connections the way Rotary does. We blend tradition with innovation and use trust and respect to close the generation gap.”

“Many of us have been able to get younger generations to visit a meeting or participate in a project but getting them to join our clubs has been more difficult,” Tracey said.

She stated that Rotary can offer younger people what they want. “They crave connections—a network of more experienced professionals, mentors with insight, with clout. They also crave experiences. They want to do good.” 

PDG and Zone Membership Coordinator Jim Adamson from Washington State (District 5060) followed up Tracey’s presentation by reminding participants of the importance of inviting the right people to join Rotary.

“None of us would have joined Rotary if someone hadn’t asked us. We need to ask them,” he said.

“We aren’t just looking for bodies. We are looking for quality people.”

DG Ingrid highlights 2018-2019 successes

Current DG Ingrid used her time on the stage to “share some highlights of our Rotary year to-date and emphasize the need to follow through on current plans.

“My District Governor journey has been amazing, engaging and rewarding—confirming the true value of Rotary and why we are doing this service work. I am immensely proud to be a Rotarian and the District Governor of this District.”

Ingrid’s favourite experiences so far this year?

“Absolutely, it has been visiting our clubs, engaging in our community projects, and connecting with our members.”

She has visited all 57 clubs, making repeat visits to some.

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DG Ingrid Neitsch highlighted successes during 2018-2019 during Spring Leadership Assembly

“Each area of our District is unique and the range of projects is astounding. Some clubs shine with their welcoming atmosphere and signature projects. Some clubs are passionate about international projects and concentrate on fundraising. Some clubs focus mainly on keeping current members engaged in fellowship and attracting new members. Some clubs have chosen to focus on aligning Rotary projects with peace-building activities. Some clubs collaborate, support other clubs’ projects and focus on hands-on projects.”

She emphasized that the culture and value base established in the club is what keeps members engaged.

Highlights Ingrid identified were:

“The District Conference 2018 was fabulous! Some clubs are still following-up with some of our amazing speakers. Thanks to all who participated as volunteers, conference committee members or attendees.”

She reminded her audience of the 2019 District Conference that will be held in Grande Prairie October 3-5.

A second highlight was the relocation of the District office to the Orange Hub in west Edmonton. “It’s a bright, cheerful space accessible to all, with security and maintenance in place.”

Ingrid also referred to the goals in the District strategic plan. “Many goals are completed, some are in progress and some are ongoing.”

She encouraged clubs to create their own plans. “To be change-makers, your club needs a plan of action.”

“One of the main goals this year is to reverse the declining membership trends these past several years. I mentioned that in every single one of my club visits. Every club was asked to retain the current membership and attract three new members,” she said.

“I want to regain the minus 110 members lost last year, plus make a net gain of 50 members by the end of June.”

She urged club leaders to “treat your membership list like a gift. Just because you haven’t seen someone for a while, do not take them off your list. Reach out. Find out what is happening in their world. They are Rotarians and at one time were passionate about Rotary.”

The District membership plan includes establishing new clubs, including the Passport club which is being formed in Edmonton. “We are launching a new Passport club for new and former Rotarians and plan to charter it before June 1.”

5370 reached goal to become a Peacebuilder District

IMG_8851A key District initiative for 2018-2019 was for the District to become a Peacebuilder District, which Ingrid announced during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018, and to sponsor a peace scholar.

“We achieved the peace scholar, as was announced at the District Conference. Out of 1,100 applicants from around the world, only 50 master’s and 30 certificate applicants were chosen, including our applicant, Menasha Nikhanji.

The goal of becoming a Peacebuilder District was also reached.

“We needed to donate $US 25,000 to the Rotary Peace Centres to receive Peacebuilder status within Rotary International. “We have had tremendous support. Clubs and individuals donated close to $24,000, which along with $20,000 in District Designated Funds brings us close to $50,000,” Ingrid says.

“We have reached the goal for this year and are very close to two years of support for the Peace Centres.”

Ingrid closed with words of encouragement for the rest of 2018-2019:  “Let’s finish strong! Keep the positive momentum going, finish blazing our trail and we will continue to flourish as we inspire each other as ‘Rotary Connects the World!’ ”

Project Amigo workweek: an opportunity to serve, learn and bond for past and future District Governors

After spending a week volunteering at Project Amigo with several Past District Governors and their spouses, Jim Ferguson (Rotary E-club of Canada One) feels he knows these former District 5370 leaders much better than before.

Jim Feguson with Kinder

Jim Ferguson with kindergarten-aged soccer players

“I hadn’t had much interaction with Past District Governors. I had seen them at District events but only knew them to say hi,” says Jim, who will serve as District 5370 governor in 2020-2021. “I thought of them as Rotary royalty for what they have accomplished in our District.”

“When you get together and actually have a chance to get to know them personally, it was a fantastic experience,” Jim says. “The PDGs are a great group of people.”

The idea of a workweek for District Governors has been percolating for several years, according to PDG Elly Contreras (Rotary E-club of Canada One), who now serves as Canadian Intermediary for the Project Amigo Canada Society (PACS). 

“My wish was to have more Rotarians, particularly my fellow governors, participate,” she says. “Several expressed interest, but it just didn’t happen.”

Plans made at District Conference in Fort McMurray

That is, nothing happened until the 2017 District Conference in Fort McMurray. 

“At the conference, there was discussion about why more clubs didn’t participate in Project Amigo,” says Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray), who was District Governor at the time. “We talked about it, which led to us deciding to schedule a workweek for past District Governors.”

In addition to Jim and his wife Jocelyn, the team that went to Cofradia, Mexico, in mid-February, included  DGE Tracey Vavrek and her husband Vince, and seven PDGs and their spouses—Judy Brown (Ron), Elly Contreras (Ramiro), Terry Drader (Mary), Ross Tyson (Brenda), Jackie Hobal (Wayne), Betty Screpnek (George), and Frank Reitz (Barbara).

Elly, who has been visiting Project Amigo since 2008 organized the visit by the past and future District  Governors.

“I found right from the very moment we arrived that the week was very well-organized and action-packed. Elly had us on the move from morning to night,” Jim says.

“They were surprised by the wonderful accommodation with private bathrooms, the wonderful meals every day, the various activities planned for them, and most of all by the amazing structures Project Amigo has developed over the last 35 years,” Elly says.

PDG Judy Brown (Rotary E-club of Canada One) has an even longer history with Project Amigo than Elly as a longtime volunteer and as a member of the PACS board.

“I first heard about Project Amigo when Ted Rose and Susan Hill came to Edmonton and did a presentation for our Rotary club (Edmonton Riverview),” Judy says. “My late husband, Peter, and I spent our winter vacations in Manzanillo, which is only about one and half hours away from where Project Amigo is headquartered.”

“The next year, we visited with Ted and Susan at Project Amigo. Ted took us around the area to show us what they were doing. Peter and I went back pretty well every year from 2002 to 2010.”

“My husband, Ron Brown, and I have attended three workweeks since 2012,” Judy says. “We keep coming back because we are hooked on this great initiative—seeing first-hand what a difference we are making by enabling children to go to school.”

“For nearly 20 years, Rotarians from our District have participated in workweeks at Project Amigo during the winter months,” Elly says. 

Click here to learn how you can be part of a future Project Amigo workweek.

Each of the governors had his or her own reason for volunteering for this workweek. For Jim, it was an opportunity to be part of a service project in another country. 

“I haven’t been on an overseas service project before and this was a chance to participate in one,” Jim says, who also had a more personal connection to Project Amigo.

“Our E-club has a student we are supporting through Project Amigo, so I knew I would have a chance to meet her.”

Clubs and individuals can sponsor Project Amigo students: $135 a year for an elementary student, $795 for a secondary student and $5,280 for a post-secondary student (including accommodation at Casa Amigo). In addition, there are other non-sponsorship ways to support Project Amigo.

PDG Ross Tyson (RC of Edmonton Northeast) felt that volunteering with other past governors would be something special.

“We had talked about it for a long time and planned for the workweek for about a year,” he says. “The fellowship you gain from going with people you know is second to none because you spend 16 hours a day together.”

“I was pleasantly surprised by what the people with Project Amigo do,” Ross says. “I only thought about sponsoring students. I had not expected to see children mentoring each other in the homework club. After school, the older sponsored kids nurture and coach younger sponsored kids.”

Ross notes that to remain in the Project Amigo program the students must keep up with their studies. 

“They are required to maintain a certain average to stay in the program,” he says. “This is a sustainable aspect of Project Amigo, because it helps ensure that the sponsors’ money is well spent.”

The team spent its days visiting schools, meeting students and their parents, and becoming involved in activities with the children. 

“We were able to feel the positive impact of Project Amigo when we met the kids and their parents. These kids are having a positive experience—the opportunity for a better life,” says Frank

Tracey Vavrek Reading with student

DGE Tracey Vavrek reads with a Project Amigo student

“We met children who only experienced going to school (with) books and crayons because of the direct participant of Project Amigo and their supporters,” says DGE Tracey (RC of Grande Prairie After Five).

“We met teenagers who are advancing and actively participating in their schooling due to the financial support and gifts of tools like computers and books. We met young people who were on the road to becoming lawyers, nurses, hairstylists and more, because someone invested time and resources in them, believing in them,” she says.

Each team member brought an extra suitcase filled with colouring books, crayons, toothbrushes, clothing and other supplies, which they distributed to students at Project Amigo and to the children at a nearby camp for migrant workers.

The migrant workers bring their families with them when they come from other parts of

Ramiro Deliving Food bags at MIgrant Camp

Ramiro Contreras delivers a bag of food to a family in the migrant camp 

Mexico to work in sugar cane fields. At the camp, the team “witnessed poverty at a level I could only imagine,” says Tracey. “We saw homes that were small concrete facilities with dirt floors, with access to water in a common area outside of the homes. This area was used for dishwashing and washing clothes.”

 “This was an opportunity to experience a lifestyle that was so different than ours,” Frank says. “Inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre have it better than these families.”

Beside working with the children, the workweek was an opportunity to experience the culture of Mexico. 

They learned to make salsa and guacamole, joined a meeting of the Rotary Club of Coquimatlan, visited the La Campana archeological site, and toured a mescal distillery. 

The team even helped Frank and Barbara celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary.

For all the District Governors, past and future, the Project Amigo was a special experience. 

“It did bring us together in a way we weren’t before. We are a family of past governors, but thought the workweek, we came together in our understanding of the values of Rotary and the potential of Rotary,” Frank says. 

“The level of interaction was different than in the past. We all experienced something that was really amazing and that only comes from participation in a common experience,” he says.

“It was so great to share Project Amigo with our Rotary colleagues, to see the emotion they felt when interacting with the beautiful children that we are helping,” says Judy. “We experienced wonderful Rotary fellowship and got to know everyone better than before. It was truly an amazing week, never to be forgotten.”

District Conference 2018 promises more than inspiring speakers

District conference Main

UPDATE: SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS POSTED, CHRIS OFFER HAS REPLACED STEPHANIE WOLLARD AS THE SPEAKER AT THE SUPPORTING PEACE THROUGH THE ROTARY FOUNDATION DINNER ON THURSDAY EVENING. STEPHANIE WILL STILL SPEAK AT THE CONFERENCE AS SCHEDULED.

The District 5370 Conference will be more than just an opportunity to hear great speakers during plenary and breakout sessions.

The conference is also an opportunity to learn and connect with Rotarians from other clubs, October 18 to 20.

House of Friendship

Annie Muller (RC of Edmonton West) says that the House of Friendship, which will be set up in the foyer of Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre, between the registration desk and Hall D where main stage sessions will occur, will be “a place for Rotarians to meet.”

.In the centre of the House of Friendship, the MacEwan Rotaract club will erect a Shelterbox tent, as part of its efforts to raise funds to provide temporary shelter for families displaced by natural disasters or war.

There will be 12 additional displays highlighting programs supported by Rotary clubs and individual members, including Project Amigo, Literacy Without Borders, the Emmanuel Foundation, Inclusion Alberta, Well Spring Edmonton and others.

There will also be information about the 2019 District Conference, which will be held in Grande Prairie next fall, and an opportunity to purchase Rotary merchandise, such as clothing, pins and other items.

Annie says space in the House of Friendships was snapped up soon after it became available, earlier this year.

“The majority of displayers signed up quickly,” she says. “Every space was booked and paid for within about a month.”

Annie promises that the House of Friendship will be more than just displays.

“It will be a place for Rotarians to have a conversation, charge their phones and recharge themselves,” she says. “It’s a place where people can meet before or after sessions.”

Peace Dinner

An event being introduced at the conference for the first time is the Supporting Peace Through The Rotary Foundation Dinner, beginning at 5:30 on Thursday evening, October 18.

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Rotary Peace Fellow Stephanie Wollard will be featured speaker during the Supporting Peace Through The Rotary Foundation dinner on Thursday, October 18

There is a separate charge for this dinner, which is open to all Rotarians and guests, whether they are attending the conference or not. Tickets for the dinner cost $85.00, plus GST. Click here to purchase your tickets.The peace dinner is being held conjunction with the Paul Harris Society Dinner, which is traditionally held on the Thursday evening before the conference begins.

The featured speaker will be Stephanie Wollard, a Rotary Peace Fellow and a Rotarian from Australia. She is also speaking at the Conference on Saturday afternoon.

PHS Coordinator Carol Devereux (Rotary Club of Edmonton South) explains that the dinner, “is a way for society members to get together for fellowship and to be recognized for their ongoing contributions to the Foundation.”

The District 5370 Paul Harris Society consists of about 100 members, each of whom has committed to an annual donation of $US1,000 to TRF.

The introduction of a peace dinner fits with the District’s 2018-19 goal to become a Rotary Peacebuilder District.

Carol points to peace and conflict prevention/resolution as one of TRF’s areas of focus.

During 2017-18, Rotary International hosted six Peace Building Summits around the world, each of which focused on how one of the other areas of focus contributed to building more peaceful societies.

“A characteristic of a peaceful society is how it aligns with all the areas of focus for TRF,” Carol says.

“When clubs have projects related to any of these areas of focus, they are contributing to peace building,” she says. “If people are not struggling, they are less likely to be convinced to pick up a gun.”

The other areas of focus for TRF are disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy, and economic and community development.

Governor’s Ball

The conference will wrap up Saturday evening with the Governor’s Ball, a celebration of Rotary including a great meal, followed by dancing to the music of an 18-piece orchestra.

The evening will have a 1920’s theme, which District Governor Ingrid Neitsch describes as “a shout out to the early glory years of Rotary, because it was in the 1920’s when things really got going.”

Your conference registration includes a ticket to the Governor’s Ball. Additional tickets are available for purchase for people who will not be attending the rest of the conference.

Volunteering with Project Amigo was a life-changing experience for former district governor

Migrant Camp

Children from a migrant camp

In 2008, Past District Governor (2005-06)  Elly Contreras (Rotary E-Club of Canada One) and her husband and fellow Rotarian, Ramiro, arrived in Colima, Mexico, for a volunteer week with Project Amigo, with the expectation that “we will be changing lives.”

What they didn’t realize was that the lives that would be changed were theirs. 

“Ten years ago, we came for a week of volunteering, not expecting the enormous impact it would make on our lives,” Elly says. 

“I became a different person, with an appreciation for life I never expected. The little seed that was planted by Project Amigo grew and created a bond that brought me closer to the culture [of Mexico] and its people. I am proud to be part of the lives of so many young people who have so much potential. I have seen them develop into confident young adults. All they need are people like us, who empower them, support them and tell them they are worthy.”

Project Amigo was established in 1984, by two Rotarians from California, to provide educational opportunities to children from poor Mexican families who would likely have little hope without the organization’s support. The Project Amigo Canada Society was formed in 2008, with Elly as its first president.

Darrel Martin (RC of Edmonton Northeast), the current president of the board of directors for Project Amigo Canada, says, “Project Amigo takes kids from elementary school age up now to university. Seventy-one have graduated from university. When I first went there in 2008 there wouldn’t have been anyone in university.

“There is a lot of pressure from the family to go to work to help the family, because these families have almost no money,” Darrel says. “For boys, if their fathers work in the sugar cane field, there’s pressure on them to go to work in the sugar cane field. That’s part of the cultural thing we are working against with the program, but as time goes by, more and more are graduating and getting jobs and people see that is a good thing.”

He believes that attitudes are changing. 

“Parents are realizing the bigger picture and thinking that my son or daughter is going to be able to do more for this family if we suck it up now and allow them to go to school. 

During Project Amigo workweeks, volunteers assist with construction projects,  deliver books and other materials to schools, and work with the children.

Volunteers and Staff

Project Amigo staff and volunteers

Many of the volunteers are Rotarians, but not all. “There have been non-Rotarians who have gone down there, and then come back and joined Rotary,” Darrel says.

To learn more about workweeks, or to volunteer to spend a week in Cofridia, in the state of Colima, visit the Project Amigo Canada website.

Since their first workweek, Ramiro and Elly returned often to work with the Project Amigo staff and now spend half the year in Mexico, where Elly serves as the Canadian Intermediary/Co-ordinator with Project Amigo.

“We have learned so much about this beautiful culture, its kind people and the hardship many of the indigenous people face on a daily basis,” she says.

“We have seen shy, insecure, barefooted, snotty-nosed eight-year-olds from the migrant camps, with no way out of the continuous cycle of poverty, develop into confident students, excited to have finished high school and enrolled in university—something which is unheard of in this culture. We have met many grateful parents, proud of having their child as the first one in their family continuing beyond primary school.”

Darrel sees evidence of the value of the program in the success of some of its graduates. “The village of Cofridia has had two mayors, who both are lawyers, who have come through the program,” he says.

Another example of the program’s success is a young man who completed university and now works for an export company. “I asked him, ‘What would have become of you if it had not been for Project Amigo?’ He said, ‘I would be working in the sugar cane fields.’ ”

In addition to participating in volunteer workweeks, you can support Project Amigo by sponsoring individual students. Currently, more than 300 students are supported in this fashion, including 76 who have Canadian sponsors: 39 in elementary school, 11 in junior high, 12 in high school, 13 in university and one in technical school.

“Our goal is to increase the number of students sponsored by Canadians to 100 by the end of 2018,” Elly says.

It costs $135 to sponsor a student in elementary school and $765 for a junior/senior high student. With the cost to sponsor a university or technical school student $5,000 or more, it’s common for several individuals or Rotary clubs to combine their resources for those sponsorships.

Representatives of Project Amigo have a booth at the RI Convention in Toronto and are often in the House of Friendship at District conferences.

“Project Amigo has changed my life,” Elly says. “It has given me a better understanding of who I am as a person. It may change yours too.”