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Learning As A Rotarian

May 27, 2010

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As an educator of students from early childhood through college, I have always taught how important it is to learn from others who may have different viewpoints and experiences from your own. Lessons are often easier to teach than learn, but I have learned a great deal from becoming a Rotarian. Years ago when I was serving on a variety of committees in the community, I would get annoyed that we could never meet for lunch on Fridays because so many of the men had to go to a Rotary meeting. At that time, there was only one Rotary club in town. I would complain to the very fine people I was serving with on the different committees as to how they could be members of an organization that did not include women in their membership. I think I may have referred to it as a "sexist" organization.

When Rotary International voted to admit women, it was their turn to challenge me. I was proposed and accepted as a member and for twenty-two years I have been learning continuously about what it means to be a Rotarian. First, and this is probably the most obvious lesson, is that people who may have different political philosophies can work together for those in need in a community. Rotary prides itself on being an organization that is non-sectarian, non-political and devoted to the ideal of service above self. That service, however, can be more powerful if people work together on the various projects.

One member may have a vision that will engage all of the other members in working with him or her to achieve that vision. An example of this is Jerry Albert's determination to redo the old, discarded fountain into a working object of beauty and serenity for the people of Bennington and those visiting Bennington to enjoy. When he would ask for volunteers at a meeting, there was always a ready group to help early on a Saturday morning. For those not strong enough to hoist heavy pieces, there was fund raising that could be done.

Working with Sal Sarcantangelo on a mentoring program with Interact and elementary school children was another accomplishment that taught me how Rotarians cooperate. Rotary International had asked for proposals and I was supposed to write one. Thirty minutes on the phone with Chuck Putney gave me the necessary approach for us to win a $25,000 grant. That was particularly meaningful because one of the Interact students on the committee had been a student at the Early Childhood Center.

There is a Jim Ross Pavilion. that the town enjoys, that took several years of fund raising, building, painting and all the other necessary activities to create it. Jim was often called Mr. Rotary because he exemplified all that Rotary stands for. He was always early to meetings, setting up, greeting people, helping people get involved in community projects. The pavilion is named for him, but he would also have wanted to represent the commitment to the local community that all Rotarians act upon. Carrying on Jim's job as editor of the club's monthly newsletter reminds me of how he would interview each new member as a part of welcoming them to Rotary.

I have the pleasure of working with the Catamount Club on our Four Way Test Speech Contest, listening to young people talk about the principles of Rotary and their meaning for them. A recent incident that reaffirmed my sense of how wonderful Rotarians are has to do with Bennington's Season of Mystery. I was in the library talking with Linda Donigan and Chris Poggi about their month of mystery and mayhem while people kept coming in and picking up boxes of books to distribute to Early Childhood and Primary school programs. I asked if they had a mystery box. They didn't. The boxes and books together cost $250. At the next Rotary lunch meeting, I told the Rotarians about the program and passed my deerstalker cap around. By the end of the meeting, the hat was full. As they were leaving, people dropped some extra dollars and change. I took the deerstalker to the Children's library with $250 in it.

For the past three years, I have been privileged to be an Assistant Governor. This means that I was the liaison between the District Governor and five clubs, including my own. I discovered that it didn't matter the size of the club, Rotarians were dedicated to working for others in their community and in the world through programs like Pure Water for the World and Polio Plus. Visiting Rotary clubs in Canada has shown me that national borders don't make a difference. Many of my fellow Rotarians tell me about their experiences in a range of different countries. This is a fellowship of men and women who are dedicated to service above self.

Author: Sally Sugarman (Club Member & Windmill Editor)

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