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Rotary Thought Spot Small Steps, Courageous Results

April 20th, 2009

“To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons.”

  – Marilyn French, writer and activist

 “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

  – Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who

 When I was growing up, going out in public as a family of so many children, so close in age, often drew attention and comments.

 My parents had very clear expectations of our behavior, and we knew exactly what the consequences were for not meeting those expectations. Whenever a doting matron or an amused grandfather would comment, “What handsome children you have! And how well behaved!” my mother would eye us knowingly while we smiled shyly.   

Except for Eddie.  My older brothers were twins and Stan was the calm, steady one. Eddie – well, Eddie was the one who was always up to something. He could and did talk to anyone, with a disarming smile and no fear. 

On a stop at the gas station, the rest of us obeyed my father and stayed in the car. Eddie would be the one found in the service bay, squatting next to the feet of a mechanic working under a car and chatting up the protruding shoes with a storm of questions. He was curious about everything and explored it all. Eddie was good for spontaneous, happy-go-lucky fun regardless of the results.

Early one spring Sunday morning, Eddie dared us to sit on the roof ledge of our sun porch, which happened to be accessible from the girl’s bedroom window. Within a few minutes the oldest four of us were sitting on the ledge in our pajamas, legs dangling over the side while Eddie rattled excitedly about how the back yard looked from up there. When a neighbor spied us from the house next door, we all waved happily – at Eddie’s suggestion. 

Fortunately the panicked neighbor called our parents. My father lured us off the sun porch roof with the promise of pancakes for breakfast, then promptly disciplined us and made sure that the bedroom window never provided us with another escapade. My parents could seal windows and dole out discipline, but that never seemed to bottle up Eddie’s enthusiasm.

The summer before I started kindergarten we lost Eddie. It wasn’t an ulcer-inducing roof adventure or unsupervised tree climbing or any of his other antics that stopped him. It was a fever that progressively and quickly got worse. He had been put to bed early with a temperature and by morning he was gone. 

At the time our family doctor could not explain what had happened or give a name to the condition that left such a raw hole in our lives. Years later he called my parents to tell them about new research and that something called Reye’s Syndrome was the likely cause.

My sisters and brothers and I have often lovingly commented that if Eddie had survived he would have been either wildly successful  or a delinquent – there would have been no middle ground.  I often think about him when I’m questioning whether to take a risk or stay the safe and ordinary course. And it’s his legacy of taking the joyful plunge into life that has made me courageous more than once. 

This year I’ve thought of him as we Rotarians have focused on reducing child mortality in our communities and our world. Diseases like malaria and polio don’t care if they have been researched or named. They don’t care about the lives they take or the scars they leave on the living.  They just take.

That’s why it’s so important for us as Rotarians to care-and to give.  To make a difference in the lives of children, we first have to care that they survive childhood. We cannot save the children that have already been taken from us. But we can save the ones who ar ehere with us now and the ones yet to come.

The change that we pull from our pockets and leave on the dresser each evening – this makes a difference when it’s donated to our Foundation by more than a million of us around the world.  the actions we take to be “pro-kid” in our communities – these are the samll steps that lead to big, corageous results. 

Whether the kids we save are strong and steady types or happy-go-lucky mischief-makers is not the point.  What matters is that we give them their chance to survive – and thrive.


DG Elizabeth 

Ways to Take Small Steps for Big, Courageous Results

Start a child-centered project in your club, or begin planning now to implement one in the next Rotary year. Last September, 33 clubs in our district implemented 39 child- centered community projects through our Rotary Lives Here Service Day. At the District Conference last weekend, Rotarians in our district donated shoes for more than 12,000 children.  Start connecting now with the churches, social services and public health organizations in your community to identify kids in need and potential projects – and while you’re checking, explore the boards and leadership of those organizations for potential new club members and program speakers. 

Over 25,000 children die every day around the world and 18 children lose their lives every minute. Make a difference between life and death, surviving and thriving, for children all over the world with a donation to the Rotary Foundation Annual Programs Fund before June 30, 2009.   

 Because every child matters – no matter how small -every donation matters – regardless of size! We can achieve big, courageous results if each of us contributes. Contributing is easy – talk to your club Foundation chair or contact District Foundation chair Shirley Wurth at davidwurth@sbcglobal.net. Or read about Ways to Give and download the Foundation Contribution form on the District 6040 website, www.rotary6040.org,.

What has your “Some Pig Saves Kids” blue pig done for you lately? If your club attended the District Rotary Lives Here Workshops lat October, chances are your club has a blue pig for collecting polio eradication contributions in your community. Polio is still endemic in 4 countries, and it takes more than 3 doses of the vaccine delivered to millions of children for eradication to succeed – and $200 million raised by Rotarians to match a $355 million challenge grant from the Gates Foundation! Circulating the pig and challenging your club members to match the funds raised in your community is a great way to help raise Rotary’s portion of the Gates Challenge Grant. For more information or for a program on Polio Eradication for a club meeting, contact  Foundation Chair Shirley Wurth at  davidwurth@sbcglobal.net.

 Copyright 2009 WhiteSpace Consulting LLC

Rotary Thought Spot Heaven or Helvetica: The Art of Understanding

April 13th, 2009

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

– Steven Covey

 “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.”

  – Chinese Proverb 

 When my niece was eleven she begged for a guitar for Christmas.

 She’s studied classical violin since she was six, but that wasn’t a skill she could use in the rock band she was forming with her friends.

 That holiday she plinked out the notes to Good King Wenceslas. Three months later she was ripping through the guitar lead on Stairway to Heaven. She and her band mates couldn’t come up with a name until my sister suggested “Helvetica.” No one in the band realized that their fierce name was actually a computer font.    

 For her fourteenth birthday my niece asked for tickets to an all-ages heavy metal rock concert, a four-hour event on a Saturday afternoon. My sister and brother-in-law were reluctant to let her go, let alone accompany her. In a moment of impulsive compassion, I offered to be the parental eyes and ears and take my niece to the concert. I don’t know why I do these things. 

 On concert day I picked up my niece and a friend. They were both dressed in skinny jeans, hoodies and Converse sneakers. I looked like, well, like I wasn’t a fourteen year old girl going to a rock concert. We headed to the concert venue and got in line with a few hundred other kids wearing skinny jeans, hoodies and Converse sneakers.

 The first band started playing at 4:15. There were no seats – the crowd stood on the dance floor in front of the stage, texting friends and raising their cell phones in photo salutes to the band. 

 I stood at a slight distance from the girls but the crowd quickly got dense. My niece turned to me and advised, “You better not stand there, it could be a little rough. Maybe you want to sit up there?”

 I followed her pointing finger to a second level ringing the dance floor.  It was filled with parents wearing golf shirts and khakis and sitting tolerantly on stools. Aha.

As I found a free stool, the spot where I’d been standing a minute earlier started churning like boiling water. I saw heads swinging, hair flying, as a group of boys hopped randomly and rapidly through the space that emerged, bumping each other like pinballs in an arcade game. Within a few seconds they reached a critical mass of about a dozen boys who just as quickly blended back into the crowd.

 I was mesmerized.  What just happened? I felt like Margaret Mead on a heavy-metal Samoa.

 “That’s called head banging and moshing.” Somebody’s mom on the neighboring stool shouted in my ear. She handed me a small transparent bag with two mint-colored pieces of spongey plastic. “First time, huh? Here, I always bring spares – ear plugs.”

 Over the next four hours six bands played in quick succession, bass guitars echoing through my chest and drums vibrating up through the soles of my feet. The crowd bobbed, texted, took photos with their phones.

 Boys periodically churned up, moshed and dispersed. A few crowd surfers got passed to the stage, fronted by muscled security guards with patient expressions who gently lifted the surfers off the crowd, set them on their feet and pointed them to the sidelines.

 As the last band left the stage I gathered up the girls. Their clothes were damp and their hair frizzed with humidity. “Um…so how was it?”  I asked tentatively. “It was AWEsome,” my niece pronounced. “I’ll never forget this night!”

 I’ll never forget that night either, but not entirely because of the British band from Sheffield. My niece’s birthday present was a mind-opening glimpse into a culture I didn’t fully understand. The kids observed rituals, dress and behaviors that they both adopted and adapted to sustain their concert community.

 That concert reminded me that if we want to connect with the members of any community, we need to try to understand them first. And to sustain our own communities, we need to keep some rituals and adapt others.

 In our clubs, we ring bells, hang banners, and some of us sing. We invite others into our Rotary community – new members, guests, GSE teams – who may not share our rituals or fully understand why we do them. Do we explain these things, or find ways to ease others into our community?

Sometimes members will suggest changes to our club that we don’t fully accept or understand. Do we allow our club culture to both adopt and adapt?

A fundamental step in sustaining a community is understanding that it has to evolve and change. A fundamental step in connecting to others is understanding them before we expect them to understand us. 

I could wish that my niece and I had gone to a string quartet concert. But it’s more important for me to understand her as she is.

 Understanding others is just as essential to sustaining our clubs. To adopt and adapt, we don’t need to learn to text or wear hoodies. We just need to open our minds.  


DG Elizabeth

Ways to Adopt and Adapt

Learn from what other clubs do well: One of the best ways to learn how to adopt and adapt our clubs is to hear what other clubs are doing. And one of the best ways to hear what other clubs are doing to attend the District Conference, April 24-25 at the Holiday Inn in St. Joseph.  Check out the great sessions on saying yes to opportunity, fundraising, generating PR for your club and engaging members – download the detailed conference agenda by clicking here: Conference Information.  The registration form is posted on the district website home page (see Events on the right) at www.rotary6040.org.  

Learn from the lessons of other clubs:  If you don’t adapt, your club loses members. Read the account of a club in Ohio that recently voted to disband. It’s a moving, sobering story you will want to share with your club. Download it from the district website: Lessons from a Disbanding Club at www.rotary6040.org..

Initiate an adopt/adapt dialogue in your club: At your next assembly or Board meeting, take the time for a discussion about what practices the club adopted in the past, that should be kept, and which practices should be adapted to current circumstances. One club in our district that has achieved a net +3 membership growth voted to allow members a pay-as-you-go arrangement for lunch, rather than their traditional method of paying a quarterly fixed fee. These are extraordinary social and economic times – times that require adaptability. If your club is losing members it’s time to look at the adapt/adopt ratio.

Copyright 2009 WhiteSpace Consulting LLC