District 5370: A leader in youth programs

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Students join discussion groups during RYLE

Today, our District has more Interact and Rotaract clubs than it does Rotary clubs.

A decade ago, that wasn’t the case. What happened? How did District 5370 become a Youth Services leader in North America?

Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue), who has been the District’s Youth Services chair for the last three and a half years, credits 2010-11 District Governor Jackie Hobal (RC of Edmonton West) for getting the ball rolling.

“Jackie sat down and developed a strategic plan to grow youth programs in our District,” Tamara says. “At that time, we had 11 Interact clubs and one Rotaract club.”

There were 61 Rotary clubs.

Today there are 53 Interact (ages 12-18)  clubs and 10 Rotaract (18-30) clubs. That’s a total of 63 clubs for young leaders, compared to the 58 District 5370 Rotary clubs.

“The strategy was to build these clubs. Start with Interact, which would grow our Rotaract, which would ultimately grow our Rotary membership in our District,” Tamara says. 

“At RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), we always tell Interactors that if they go to university and there is no Rotaract club, start one,” which is exactly what happened at one university this year.

“The president of the Concordia University Rotaract club was an Interact club member in Grande Prairie,” says Tamara. “She moved to Edmonton to go to Concordia. There was no Rotaract club, so she started one. It took her less than three months to get 15 people and they have done some great things.”

With a background in education, Jackie came to her role as DG with a passion for working with youth. 

“I was very aware of the demographics in Alberta, the demographics in Canada and the fact that the majority of our population was in that very young age group. If you are building for the future, and that’s what we are always thinking about in Rotary, we need to empower that particular age group.” 

“I saw the writing on the wall in terms of Rotary membership,” she says. “The decline of Rotary membership began about a year before I was governor, about 2009. People were not as excited about Rotary as they used to be and so I saw an opportunity with youth.”

Jackie feels there were two reasons that the District was successful in meeting the goals she set out in her New Generations Vision, which became the blueprint for developing youth programs in District 5370.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 9.57.20 AMFirst, the District formed a partnership with the Alberta-based Servus Credit Union, which provided a grant of $250,000. The grant was spread out over three years and shared with District 5360, which includes Alberta Rotary clubs from Red Deer south.

 “That was the magic—having the flexibility of the dollars to build capacity. Those dollars were used to create events, to really beef up our RYPEN (Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment) and our RYLA. We also started RYLE, which is Rotary Youth Leadership Experience. That program has had great success.”

Making more great ideas possible

The funds from Servus Credit Union made numerous other great ideas possible. 

“Sometimes you have great ideas as Rotarians, but you don’t have the money to make it happen. We were able to bring youth to leadership events and international conventions,” Jackie says. “We sent them to Big West Rotaract in the San Francisco area, where they have huge Rotaract events that we don’t have here.”

The money also allowed the District to adapt the concept of the CBC program Dragon Den to provide opportunities for Interact groups to find money for their projects.

“We used some of the Servus Credit Union money—one year we put aside $5,000—and we said, ‘Come and pitch your project, sell us your project,’” Jackie says. “We brought some CFOs and CEOs to be judges and gave them criteria. The kids got up and pitched their projects and then [the dragons] doled out the money. It was great. The [Rotarians] really enjoyed that. I think that got clubs inspired. They could see the potential of what these youth groups could do.”

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 9.58.12 AMThe second component to success was having people with the passion to implement the plan.

“You need leaders and you need champions,” Jackie says. “I put a touch on Laura Morie (RC of Westlock). She became Youth chair.” 

Laura’s involvement with youth goes back to when the Westlock Rotary club hosted the orientation for inbound Youth Exchange students, which the club had done for over 30 years prior to the District taking on this task.

With the orientation off its plate, the Westlock club agreed to host RYLA for three years, beginning in 2009.

Giving youth a voice

“We decided that what we really needed was for these kids to have something that was a little more experiential than sitting in a room and having different people come and talk to them,” Laura says. “We figured that enlisting the help of the kids who had previously had the experience, from one year to the next, was going to be a path to success because with kids the voices of other kids resonate.”

Listening to youth led to the creation of the District Youth Council, which meant “kids had a voice,” Laura says. “They had influence. The assisted in creating programming for RYPEN and RYLA.”

Tamara, who succeeded Laura as Youth Services chair when Laura became District Governor in 2016-17, now chairs the Youth Council.

“The committee is comprised of Rotarians, Rotaract members and Interact members. We have Rotaract and Interact members in chair positions when it comes to RYLA, RYLE and RYPEN,” Tamara says. 

“This council drives our short-term and long-term youth programs. It allows young people to have a voice in where these are going and what is most effective. They have a very large voice in the future of youth programs within the District.” 

One of Laura’s first actions as Youth Services chair was to find out what Rotary clubs were doing related to youth programming.

“We did a District-wide survey of all the clubs, asking them to tell us what they were looking for and how much resources (money and effort) they put into their youth programs and we got this amazing picture of what was going on in the District, from scholarships to commitments to sending kids off, be it on an exchange or adventure trips or RYLA or RYPEN,” she says. 

Youth Services become part of presidents-elect training

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Concordia University Rotaract club receives its charter from 2018-19 DG Ingrid Neitsch

Growing youth programs required the support of clubs, so Jackie ensured that information about youth programs was part of the training incoming club leaders received. 

“I had been part of the training team for many years in our District and I made sure that became an essential part of training of presidents-elect and club leaders,” Jackie says. “Clubs sponsor Interact and Rotaract clubs and we have seen that grow exponentially, more so than in any other district in our combined zones, Zone 24 and Zone 32. My guess is we have more active youth leaders than any of those districts.”

Part of the strategy was to encourage Rotary clubs to send students to RYLA events.

“We thought we should use the RYLA program as way to help clubs kickstart Interact clubs. If clubs would commit to sending three participants to RYLA, what would happen would be a lot like what happens at our District learning sessions,” Laura says. “If you have two or three people who go back with a consistent message, they are not a lone voice in the wilderness. We figured out how to get kids from RYLA to start Interact clubs and we trained their advisors to support them.”

When they graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary institutions, some former Interactors look to become involved in Rotaract clubs.

Laura recalls attending a University of Alberta Rotaract fundraiser about five or six years after she was first involved with Youth Services, as an amazing moment.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 9.58.52 AM“The U of A Rotaract had about 90 members and when I walked in the room at least half of the members of the Rotaract club were kids that had been through RYLE, had joined Interact and now they were Rotaractors. There were kids from Yellowknife and Peace River and Grande Prairie and Camrose and they had found and built their community in the Rotaract club and they had built-in mentors because many of them had attended RYLE and some of their counsellors who were putting on the program were university students. When these kids got there, they already had friends.”

What has happened in our District over the past decade has made it a leader in North America in terms of Youth Services.

You get out east, to the east coast and down into the U.S., and they don’t have a lot of Rotaract clubs. They don’t have Interact clubs,” Tamara says.

“Why is it that way in other districts? I can’t say, but I have been approached by two other districts to help them build their youth programs and maybe do workshops and things like that.”

Maybe someday those districts will also have more youth clubs than Rotary clubs.

Global Grant Scholarships are another way that Rotary works to achieve peace and world understanding

Australia On Globe With Flag

In just a few days, Amy Smith will leave Edmonton’s winter behind for the near perfect climate of Australia’s Gold Coast, but it’s not the surfing that is drawing her to Brisbane.

She is going to Australia to begin a two-year program at the University of Queensland, which will lead to a masters of development practices. The opportunity to continue her studies was made possible by a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship.

These scholarships are an example of how contributions to The Rotary Foundation support Rotary’s efforts to achieve peace and world understanding.

“Without this support from Rotary, I would have been unable to continue my studies,” says Amy, who already has a bachelor of arts in political science and native studies and a certificate in Aboriginal governance and partnerships from the University of Alberta.

As a result of her studies, Amy expects to learn, “practical skills to do international development projects. The program will give me tools to work with communities and analyze their needs.”

Amy has a long history of service, beginning in 2009 when she was one of a group of Calmar (Alberta) high school students who went to Belize. When they returned, their principal—himself a Rotarian—encouraged the students to form an Interact club. Amy was the founding president.

Since then, “Rotary has just been such a big part of my life,” Amy says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without Rotary. They believed in me.”

While a university student, Amy joined the University of Alberta Rotaract club, serving as its president during her final year. After graduation, she joined the Rotaract club of Edmonton.

As an Interactor and Rotaractor, Amy attended several District conferences and the 2010 RI Convention in Montreal, participated in a Rotary fellowship exchange to India and Adventures in Citizenship in Ottawa, and participated in and helped organize service projects to India, Belize and Costa Rica.

Last month, Amy helped organize and co-facilitated an Indigenous Awareness Session for Rotarians.

Scholarships supported by donations to The Rotary Foundation 

Dean Wood (RC of Edmonton Riverview), who chairs the scholarship subcommittee of the District’s Foundation Committee, emphasizes that the Global Grant Scholarship is one way in which Rotary works towards achieving its fourth object: “The advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace.”

Information about Global Grant and District Grant Scholarships is available on the District website.

“The fundamental goal of the Global Grant Scholarships is to develop a core of people who will have capacity to provide leadership in peace and understanding,” Dean says.

“Over the years, there have been a substantial number of people who have been able to continue their studies as a result of receiving Global Grant Scholarships,” Dean says. “Each has develop of people around the world who are committed to the values of Rotary.”

There are three sources of funds for Global Grant Scholarships, the largest of which is the Rotary Foundation.

“These scholarships demonstrate the value of the contributions of individual Rotarians to the Foundation,” Dean says. “The dollars they contribute lead to these young people having these great opportunities to further the goals of Rotary.”

Other money for Amy’s scholarship came from the Nisku-Leduc Rotary clubs (the sponsor Rotary clubs) and several partner clubs (Edmonton Riverview, Westlock, Edmonton Whyte Avenue, St. Albert Saint City, Jasper and Brisbane High-Rise in Australia). The money contributed by individual clubs was then matched by the District.

Previous Global Grant Scholar learned about plight of those escaping danger and trauma

While several clubs supported Amy’s scholarship, the Rotary Club of Whitecourt was the only club to help fund a previous Global Grant Scholarship, which enabled Meghan Casey to continue her studies after graduating from the University of Victoria.

Meghan, who grew up in Whitecourt, studied at the University of Kent’s Brussels School for International Studies from 2015 to 2017. The focus of her master’s program was human right’s laws and international migration.

In an article published in Beyond Borders, the newsletter for Zones 24 and 32, Meghan wrote that during her studies she became interested in the plight of “vulnerable people [who] are forced from their homes and subjected to extreme danger and trauma in hopes of finding security.”

Both in the article and in a presentation she made during the District Conference held in

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Former Global Grant Scholar Meghan Casey speaks at the District 5370 Conference in Fort McMurray in September 2017

Fort McMurray in September, Meghan described spending several weeks in the fall of 2016 as a volunteer in the unofficial refugee camp in northern France known as “The Jungle,” that sprang up in 2015 during the European migrant crisis.

“At the time, it hosted some 10,000 people, many of whom were unaccompanied minors. Camp conditions were horrific. People lived in flimsy tents pitched in an old asbestos dumping site,” Meghan wrote.

“The French government refused to provide aid, and the organizations operating in the area struggled to provide for the growing population. In November, the French government executed an uncoordinated attempt to dismantle the camp. Some 1,000 children went missing, many of whom are suspected to have fallen in with human traffickers.”

Based on her volunteer experience in The Jungle, Meghan decided to approach her studies from a different angle when she returned to Brussels for the final year of her master’s program.

“I wanted to address the increasing gap between official policies on paper and what actually happens on the ground,” she wrote. “I researched the implications of a particular EU policy for migrants and asylum seekers transiting through Turkey to the Greek islands. I spoke with Greek lawyers and other volunteers operating in the camps to assess how the agreement with Turkey had been implemented.”

While writing her thesis, Meghan worked as a trainee at the European Parliament.

“Contributing to the legislative process was fulfilling, because it allowed me to put into practice the theoretical knowledge I had acquired during my studies. I was learning about the decision-making process from the top-down. I had seen how certain policies affected vulnerable populations, and now I was learning what factors influenced those decisions.”

Meghan appreciates the support she received from the Rotary Clubs of Whitecourt and Houthalen Midden-Limburg in Belgium, the District 5370 Foundation Committee and The Rotary Foundation, which allowed her to complete her studies.

“I have been able to challenge my own understanding of global human movement by attending various courses, training sessions and conferences. Learning from experts in the field, including NGO personnel and academics, was an incredible experience that allowed me to re-conceptualize how I view the topic of migration in Europe and North America. Rotary’s support has allowed me to advocate for a more positive portrayal of migrants in politics and the media, which ultimately affects how they are welcomed in their new communities.

“Without the support of my community, local and district Rotary clubs, I would not have had the opportunity to engage in so many diverse and challenging opportunities, which have ultimately shaped me into the person I am today and will be in the future. Thank you, Rotary Foundation!”

You can help provide opportunities for other young people to further their studies related to peace and understanding with the support of Global Grant Scholarships when you donate to The Rotary Foundation.

The “Beast” was just another challenge for organizers of the 2017 District conference

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Consider the challenges associated with planning any Rotary District conference: finding the right date, deciding on a theme, securing a venue, selecting speakers, getting people to register, etc. Then locate it in a community 300 km away from the next nearest Rotary club and at least a five-hour drive away from where most Rotarians in the District live.

If that wasn’t enough, insert into the mix a devastating wildfire which led to a month-long evacuation of the entire city.

Now you are beginning to understand what faced conference chair Matt Pate (Fort McMurray Oilsands) and members of the committee responsible for planning the 2017 Rotary District 5370 Conference, scheduled for September 28 to 30 at Shell Place in Fort McMurray.

District Conference Banner

Despite these obstacles, Matt is pleased with what they’ve accomplished. “We are really excited. We have a wonderful conference planned.”

The conference committee was formed about two years ago, soon after Frank Reitz (Fort McMurray) was identified as the District Governor Nominee. A delegation from Fort McMurray attended the 2015 conference in Dawson Creek to learn everything they could from the committee that organized that event.

The committee’s first task was to select a conference theme. This theme, “Make It Personal,” which Matt describes as the brainchild of Frank Reitz, guided the committee’s decisions about how the conference would be organized and who would be invited to speak.

One of these speakers is Darby Allen, the now-retired Fort McMurray fire chief, who became the face of the battle to prevent the fire he dubbed “The Beast,” from devouring the community.

“It is a very personal thing to have him come back to Fort McMurray to speak,” Matt says.

Other speakers include:

Jon Montgomery – a gold-medal winning Olympian and the host of The Amazing Race Canada.

Sean Hogan – a member of the Rotary Club of North Delta, who has filled several Rotary roles at the club, both at District and International levels, including as a District governor in 2012 to 2013.

Ann Lee Hussey – a Rotarian (Portland Sunrise in Maine), who has made the eradication of polio and alleviation of suffering by polio survivors her life work.

David Dotson – the president of the Dollywood Foundation, whose assignment includes overseeing the international extension of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

When citizens were able to return to the community, Rotarians in Fort McMurray resumed conference planning, but the events of May 2016 meant there were changes.

“The committee had a different look after the fire,” Matt says. “There were different demands on people’s time. They had different priorities.”

Some committee members stepped back from their involvement, including Matt’s co-chair, whose home was lost to the fire. Subsequently, she and her husband decided to leave Fort McMurray. Matt was also out of his own home for seven months.

Despite these setbacks, the committee pressed forward. “We have a strong core group of eight to 10 people, who are very engaged. Others have provided insights and value, but have not been able to commit to attend all the meetings,” Matt says.

In its work, the committee has had to respond to high expectations set by the District governor. “Frank had an ambitious plan for the conference, including Rise Against Hunger and a youth conference.”

Matt says that plans for the youth conference had to be scaled back. “We planned to host all the students from Grades 7 to 12 from Fort McMurray schools. Due to budget constraints, we scaled it down to 500 students, identified as those involved in leadership programs in their schools.”

The youth conference is scheduled for Friday, September 29. In addition to including students from Fort McMurray’s junior and senior high schools, the conference will host exchange students and members of Interact and Rotaract clubs from across the District. “We are excited to have Craig Kielberger (cofounder of Free The Children, an international development and youth empowerment organization) coming as a keynote speaker,” Matt says.

To meet the geographic challenge associated with a conference in Fort McMurray, the committee has worked with Diversified Transportation to allow Rotarians to leave their vehicles at home and the driving to someone else.

“Diversified is offering a package for people from almost anywhere in the District who don’t want to drive,” Matt says. “During the conference, we will provide busing to and from hotels and the conference site throughout the day. You won’t need a vehicle.”

To arrange your transportation, contact Diversified directly by calling 780-743-2244, ext. 203. (Please note the special Rotary pricing).

Two Optional Tours Added to the Conference

Recent additions to the conference program are two optional tours scheduled between the end of each day’s program and the evening’s social activity:

Friday: Helicopter Tour – This tour will provide an overview of the sites of the 2016 wildfire, from where it began to the neighbourhoods it consumed. ($120, space is limited)

Saturday: Oilsands Tour – This bus tour will include stops at the Giants of Mining display and the Wood Buffalo Viewpoint and Bison Sanctuary. ($20)

Both tours will depart from the conference site. Spouses and other family members who are not registered for the conference will be able to join these tours.