Rotary thrives for the same reason Chicago attorney Paul Harris founded it in 1905 – by connecting diverse people to exchange ideas, serve others, and form friendships.
Rotary’s 1.2 million members in 200 countries value community service and high ethical standards. Norfolk Rotarians started our region’s first Boys and Girls Club and helped build our region’s first oyster reefs. Today they support dozens of Hampton Roads nonprofits, read to homeless children, feed the hungry and clean our waterways.
“Each Rotarian Is encouraged to get involved on a local, regional, national and worldly level,” says new Rotarian Jamie Wright, a sales manager with Security Van & Storage, who is helping coordinate this Saturday’s Growl Fest party at the Virginia Zoo. “Rotary is there to support you and accentuate individuals’ strengths but allows each to grow.” Jamie likes how Rotary’s hands-on volunteer opportunities give him another way to be a positive role model for his 8-year-old son.
As a people person Jamie likes catching up with other Rotarians and hearing an interesting speaker at regular Rotary Club of Norfolk lunch gatherings. Since July he has learned about topics ranging from police forensics to regional transportation issues and how the REACH Foundation uses volunteer readers to introduce the “Cat in the Hat” to kids in homeless shelters who don’t yet know about Dr. Seuss books. A $22,000 Rotary grant and Rotarian reading volunteers are giving children in area shelters their own books.
Jamie’s club and the Norfolk Rotary Sunrise Club, a breakfast club, are part of Rotary International – the world’s largest service organization. Members work to improve their own communities while also underpinning global efforts to bring peace, good health, clean water and education to places desperately needing them. In Afghanistan and Pakistan a Rotary International immunization program is on the verge of eliminating the last wild polio virus in the world.
Rotary’s international component appeals to many people. Last summer Dr. Diane Wallach, Selden Optical owner, coordinated a three-week visit by four Dutch teens to Norfolk through Rotary — a club-to-club exchange program that has lasted for 40 years. She likes how Rotary helps her “be part of something much bigger than me” while appreciating the business connections Rotary helps her forge.
This summer Bryce Burton’s teenage daughter got to enjoy spending time in Tiel, The Netherlands, on the flip side of the Rotary youth exchange. Bryce, a Burton Lumber Co. vice president, is president of the Rotary Club of Norfolk and is a third generation Rotarian. He likes how “Rotary has evolved since my grandfather’s time. But Rotarians are still special individuals called to reach out and help others.”
“Rotary keeps me grounded with what’s going on in our community,” says Jerry Cronin, Elizabeth River Group CEO. He originated the Growl Fest party idea with the zoo when he was the Sunrise Club’s president last year. Jerry travels frequently for work but no matter where he is in the world, he can “find a group of Rotarians – like-minded business people who care for their communities and the world and live out the motto of Service Above Self.”
When she joined Rotary last year Kelly Stefanko, a National Science Foundation auditor working solo in a Norfolk office, found “everyone at Rotary was so welcoming that I immediately felt I gained a new set of friends. The time you spend with Rotary fulfills several purposes – educating, networking, catching up and serving others — often at the same time.”
At first Donna Morris, Reinvent Hampton Roads vice president and the Sunrise Club’s president, was convinced she had no time for Rotary. But then she quickly learned “everyone in the club is busy. But we come together, leaving our official duties behind to do something good for the community.”
For Greg Bockheim, Virginia Zoo executive director, Rotary gives him the opportunity to have face-to-face “objective discussions” with people of varying opinions — an antidote to “extreme social communication and information overload.”
For me, a nine-year Rotarian and past Rotary Club of Norfolk president, I like how Rotary constantly expands my world by exposing me to intriguing speakers, volunteer opportunities and behind-the-scenes tours. I have become friends with people whose paths I may have never crossed. Rotary is fun and pulls me from my computer to be with community-minded professionals doing something good for others.
This weekend you have two opportunities to see Norfolk Rotarians in action. On Friday they will be handing out race packets for the Heart of Ghent Race. And on Saturday they will be taking tickets and serving beer at Growl Fest at the Virginia Zoo.The Rotarians you meet will be doing what Rotary does best — volunteering for worthy causes while having fun, getting to know different people and working to make our community better.
Growl Fest is from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, September 24 at Virginia Zoo. It is sponsored by the zoo, Norfolk Sunrise Rotary Club and Rotary Club of Norfolk. Details and tickets: virginiazoo/events/growlfest.
Zoo animals will be on view until 7:30 p.m. Advance $25 tickets include zoo admission, two beers, games and a souvenir growler. $10 tickets are available for ages 2 through 20 or designated drivers. Children under age 2 are free. Tickets are $10 more on September 24.Proceeds will support the zoo and Rotary projects here in our region.