Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rotary District Conference - Ross Carrington

             Our Rotary district held its annual conference this past weekend in the beautiful Lafayette Hill, right outside of the city. A group of us represented Rotaract Philly among the many other Rotary and Rotaract clubs in District 7450 and got the chance to learn about very important issues Rotary is getting involved in.
             The day included two very interesting lectures: one on clean water initiatives and another on efforts to stem child slavery. We were first introduced to an organization called Water Missions International, which undertakes clean water projects in 49 developing countries, mainly throughout Latin America and Africa. The organization builds clean water systems for public use that provide a safe alternative to the contaminated water that has plagued communities with disease.
            After some time set aside for mingling with Rotarians/Rotaractors from other clubs, we saw a very moving presentation on child slavery. It was very sobering to realize that the phenomenon was so endemic throughout the modern world, and that the United States was not immune. The lecture ended on a positive note, however, with a segment on rescue organizations that were making headway in stemming back the tide.
           The most inspiring, and most awaited, presentation of the day was given by Ramesh Farris on polio eradication. Born in India, Farris had contracted polio at six months of age and was paralyzed from the waist down. Farris’ mother, unable to provide the resources her son would need, gave him up to an orphanage. He was then adopted by a Canadian family, after initial opposition from the Canadian government based on the fear that Farris would place too much strain on the country’s healthcare system.
        The presentation was moving from the very beginning, when Farris crawled through piercing silence from the back of the auditorium to the stage and began to tell his story while sitting on the floor. The discomfort quickly gave way to disbelief and cheer as Farris rose up and began to walk across the stage.  In Canada, Farris had undergone numerous surgeries, eventually allowing him to walk with the help of leg braces. He has been traveling across the world recounting his experience, in the hope that there will one day be no more “crawlers.”

         All in all, the conference proved to be, as always, an immeasurably enriching and inspirational day. I would greatly recommend that every Rotaractor try to go at some point. You don’t want to miss out!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jane Williams Tribute - Ross Carrington

We walked into the front door and were immediately overwhelmed. The number of people who had come to celebrate Jane's years of service as the District Rotaract Club Committee Chairperson was simply astounding. The room was filled with Rotarians and Rotaractors of all ages, from college students like ourselves to much more experienced (but really just as young) adults. Luckily, we had gotten there early enough to mix and mingle with members from other clubs - a rare occasion to see some familiar faces and meet completely new ones. It wasn't long, however, before the evening got started and attention turned to where it belonged for the night: on Jane Williams and her years of dedication to Rotaract.

As a tribute, it was fitting that the evening's program consisted mainly of different individuals giving their testimonies on how Jane touched them as Rotarians/Rotaractors and as people. Person after person stood up and shared how Jane had gone out of her way to make them feel welcome when they were new to the club, or had inspired and guide them toward higher leadership roles within the organization. What really made the night special was the sincerity that could be heard in their voices. It wasn't just a ceremony that had to be carried out for a high-ranking member; they were speaking from the heart. At the end of the testimonies, Jane was presented with a plaque and some big news: she had been nominated to the National Women's Hall of Fame! Better yet, to everyone's surprise, Jane was related to Susan B. Anthony, which made the nomination all the more meaningful.

The evening concluded with carnival-style games that the different Rotaractors had brought in order to raise money for Rotary's polio initiative. Not to brag, but our game was quite a crowd-pleaser. We put together an entertainment trivia game, covering movies and tv shows from the 1950s through the 1990s. People got so worked up while playing that we will definitely have to find an occasion to use it again. 

All in all, it was an incredibly fun and inspiring evening to celebrate the work of a very special woman. Her tenure as Chairperson may be up, but this is just the beginning of a brand new chapter for Jane.

MANNA Food Preparation - Youssouf Camara

Manna is a Pennsylvanian non-profit organization that focuses on providing nutritional meals for a number of communities but particularly, those at acute nutritional risk due to life-threatening illness (such as Cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other illness). Volunteers work alongside Manna’s chefs to prepare and package >3,500 medically appropriate meals each weekday.

True to its word, preparing and packaging food is exactly what Emily, Stephanie, and I did. Around 10, we arrived and got a few minutes to chill and talk to other volunteers (cookies were provided). As soon as we got settled, it was off to work. And not surprisingly, there was always something to do. Part 1 was the conveyor belt – starts with an empty container and ends with sealed packaged food. Now, it was pretty fun to get there, meet the other volunteers, chat with your friends while packaging food. Emily and Steph were both at the fruit station and I took the opportunity to make the activity unnecessarily competitive and see who could scoop faster (Steph won). Part 2 was washing and chopping celery. If you’ve seen the pictures of us at Manna, you’ll notice that we went through an impressive amount of celery. It’s a fairly monotonous task made fun by witnessing your friends’ cutting skills: from slapping a knife to the board while praying that your fingers and celery make it out ok to cutting slowly timidly enough that your celery might actually make it out in one piece. Part 3 was clean-up which took all of 3 minutes and then we said our goodbyes.

We worked out an arrangement with Manna where the Rotaract Club could go regularly to 23rd Street, every other week, and only need to fill out a waiver ahead of time. It’s the simplest way I can imagine of getting some valuable community service and spending time with your fellow Rotaractors.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ronald McDonald House Visit - Elaine Zuo

After months of attempting to secure a spot, Cara Cugley and I were finally able to represent Rotaract Philly in volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House last Sunday. As we walked into the kitchen, we noted the spread of desserts already lined up on the countertop and the warm smiles of the staff. Joined by a member of Penn APO, we began work immediately on a dessert recipe Cara had learned from her time at FreshEx- fruit trifle. Although there was no baking involved in our sweet treat, we still made ample use of Ronald McDonald's kitchen resources. Volunteers from Temple and other organizations around Philly started trickling in as we sliced strawberries, bananas and angel food cake, increasing the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Our finished product consisted of layers of fruit and angel food cake, separated by thin layers of cream.

While we waited for other volunteers to complete their cooking, we were given an extensive tour of the Ronald McDonald House. I was impressed by the history of the house, especially the fact that the very first house was created in Philadelphia. The facilities of the house showed the charity's dedication to creating a supportive environment for the sick children it housed, from providing a computer lounge to laundry to a large play area.

We then sat down with the other volunteers and the families staying at the house to enjoy a delicious dinner. The volunteers had worked hard to create an array of scrumptious foods that were appreciated by all. We were happy to find that our dessert was a hit, and scrambled to taste some for ourselves. After dinner, we washed dishes and helped clean up the kitchen before bidding the staff goodbye. Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House was a wonderful experience, and I would definitely recommend it and go again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

RYLA! - Cara Cugley

When I arrived at RYLA this year, I looked forward to lending a helping hand where it was needed and imparting any wisdom I had onto the RYLA participants this year. I did not, however, expect to, once again, learn more about myself, leadership, and Rotary.

I attended District 7450’s RYLA program three years ago in 2009 as a junior at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne. I was an unaware of what I was getting myself into when my best friend begged me to join her for the weekend. At the time, my school did not have an Interact Club, so I had no idea what Rotary was or what RYLA was. In the end, I remember getting up at the Reflections Ceremony Sunday morning and sharing with the other RYLA participants how glad I was that my friend dragged me along because thanks to her, I ended up having one of the best experiences of my life. I got the opportunity to meet 50 amazing peers who were as ambitious and compassionate as I was about helping others. I got to learn about myself, and most importantly, about my style of leadership and how to improve my leadership skills. This allowed me to go on to help start an Interact Club at my high school, to start my own Philosophy Club at my high school, and to later hold a board position in my Rotaract Club. Lastly, it introduced me to the amazing entity that is Rotary. That experience alone opened a huge door of opportunities to me for the future. I now had 1.2 million people standing behind me, ready to help. It was incredible.

I had been eager to return to RYLA since the minute I left. This year, that dream turned into reality. Three years later, I was able to return to RYLA as a Rotaractor and help out. And I enjoyed every second of it. I enjoyed everything for the ice breakers, that from the very beginning began to spring new friendships, to the amazing talent show to the ending reflections ceremony. I enjoyed watching my team, Team Frisqué, become fast friends and work well together to accomplish the tasks set to them. I also enjoyed the chance to get closer to my fellow Rotaractors who were there as well.

I thought that I had learned everything I needed to know from RYLA because I had attended it before. To put it simply, I was wrong. I thought I would just be aiding the participants in their tasks. Who knew that I would be learning more about my own leadership skills in the process? I learned that I have problems sitting on the sidelines. When my group was tasked with making a product and commercial for the free enterprise project, my first instinct was to jump in, start making decision, assign tasks, and to start brainstorming. It took a lot of effort to reign myself in and remind myself that I was only there to oversee their work and that I was supposed to let them do all of that themselves. I kept telling them that I was only there to oversee, but I think I was trying to remind myself more than them. They did fine just one their own. They ended up winning the contest for best product. I realized that they did better without my interference which taught me that sometimes, the best way to lead/help is to actually take a step back and let people have some autonomy in their work. No need to always micromanage all the time. Also, as I sat in the back and listened to Bonnie, Joe, and the panel of Rotarians discuss Rotary and Rotary’s history and projects, I discovered that there was still a lot to Rotary that I didn’t know even after being involved with Rotary for the last 3 years. Simply put, there is always more to learn, whether it be about yourself or those you surround yourself with. Learning is a process that never ceases.

I would just like to say thank you to Rotary and RYLA (and all those who participated in RYLA) for incredible experiences that continue to be highlights in my life no matter where I am or who I’m with. The work you all do is valued more than you realize and the sense of community you create is irreplaceable. Thank you.

Rotaract Helps Habitat for Humanity ReStore! - Ross Carrington

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia recently opened its newest ReStore in Philadelphia, a used home furnishings and building materials store that collects donated home items in decent condition and sells them at modest prices. Shamil Manek and I went to help out at ReStore's grand opening two weeks ago, where we were quickly welcomed by music, dough-nuts, and the store's fun and energetic staff. While store traffic may have been a bit slower than the staff expected, there was no shortage of shoppers strolling down the aisles and browsing through the store's donated wares – ranging from sofas and ta-bles to sinks and file cabinets. While there, Shamil and I were charged with transporting large items, such as file cabinets, to customers' vehicles, as well as wiping down furniture sets. The most amazing part about Habitat's undertaking with ReStore is that all of the profits are used to construct affordable housing in the community. It demonstrates the organization's ability to find innovative ways to provide the local community with both affordable home items and affordable housing.

Rotary's 107th Birthday Celebration! - Danneile Davis

To the other restaurant patrons, it may have looked like an intimate dinner out on the town with good friends. And in many ways, it was. But between the plate-sharing, jokes, and laughter, when we all raised our glasses “to Rotary!” it was clear that this was so much more. I truly felt connected not only to the people sitting with me but also to Rotarians worldwide as we celebrated the organization’s 107th birthday. I felt humbled to be, since a sophomore in high school, a part of the organization that has brought so many different people together in the common goals of community service, friendship, and honor. Whether sharing risotto at a social dinner, discussing the agenda at a General Board Meeting, or face-painting at a volunteer event at the Ronald McDonald House, I always have that same happy feeling. The dinner was also a wonderful chance to get to know more members on a more personal level. I had such a wonderful time at La Viola celebrating Rotary’s birthday with my fellow Rotaractors, and cannot wait for our next event!