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7 reasons you can’t miss the Houston convention

Whether in person or virtual, Rotary’s annual assembly can be life changing


1. You can attend in person

“There’s nothing like shaking hands and seeing smiles in person,” says John Smarge, the chair of the 2022 Rotary International Convention in Houston. “We need to resume sharing our stories about what we’re doing in our communities around the world.”

This will be Rotary’s first in-person convention in three years, due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Houston is a great convention city,” says Smarge. “There are plenty of hotels near the George R. Brown Convention Center [the principal venue for the 2022 convention]. Everything is walkable.”

Downtown Houston

photo by Al Argueta

Since it’s also the first in-person convention since the adoption of Rotary’s new area of focus — protecting the environment — an emphasis will be placed on holding the 4-8 June event in an environmentally friendly way. For example, convention attendees are encouraged to download the Footprint app to track and offset their carbon footprint from the moment they leave home until they return.

2. You will be a part of the first convention to be hosted both in person and online

Luis Monteiro only started attending Rotary conventions in 2020, when the Honolulu event went virtual. “My career in nursing makes it hard to travel,” says Monteiro, a member of the Rotary Club of Lamego, Portugal. But once he experienced a convention, he was hooked. He attended virtually again in 2021 and plans to log on to the Houston event. “I really enjoy participating in meetings with Rotary leaders,” he says. “I will continue to participate virtually whenever there is the option.”

Fortunately for Monteiro, the Houston convention will be conducted both in-person and online. “We’ve done one or the other, but this is the first time we’re doing both,” says Smarge. “In breakout sessions, the people attending virtually will have the same two-way engagement as those sitting in the room.” All major speakers will be livestreamed.

3. You might meet an astronaut . . .

Houston’s nickname is Space City, so local Rotary members made sure to showcase Space Center Houston when planning extra activities around the city for convention attendees — and they also invited astronauts to mingle with convention-goers at the opening night’s welcome event. “Space Center Houston is a must-see,” says Rhonda Kennedy, chair of the Host Organization Committee. “But you don’t have to plan to go on your own, because we’ve planned an event for you. We will have transportation to and from the space center, food, and astronaut meet-and-greets.”

Sign up at, where you will also find a list of host committee events, which include museum tours, sporting events and more.

4. . . . or the love of your life

Jenny Bates had no qualms about attending the 2014 convention by herself, even though it was held halfway around the world in Sydney, Australia. “Meeting people everywhere you go is part of the magical experience,” says Bates, a member of the Rotary Club of San Rafael Evening, California. So when Laine Hendricks took the seat next to her at an early morning interfaith service, she struck up a conversation. The women were both from California and hit it off.

Later in the week, Bates ended up with an extra ticket to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and she asked Hendricks if she’d be willing to go with her. “I wanted to challenge myself because I was afraid of heights,” Bates says. Hendricks agreed, and together they climbed the 1,332 steps to the top of the bridge. Bates says the panorama of the city was unforgettable. Since then, Bates and Hendricks have made it a point to climb something high any time they travel — including the EdgeWalk atop the CN Tower during the Toronto convention in 2018. “Laine inspires me to do crazy things,” Bates says. “She’s very supportive.”

Bates and Hendricks (a member of the Rotary Club of San Francisco) were married in 2019, and they continue to attend conventions together. “The minute we could sign up for Houston, we were all in,” Bates says, adding that while she did attend the virtual conventions in 2020 and 2021, it wasn’t the same. “I’m always moved by the speakers, but watching it on a screen in my living room doesn’t have the same impact for me as walking into a stadium with 10,000 Rotarians. Plus, going to the convention is special to us because that’s how we met. Going to Sydney created a trajectory that changed my life forever.”

5. You will hear world-renowned speakers

“The level of speakers alone makes it worth going,” says Erin Kelly, a member of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga Breakfast, Tennessee. “I’ve seen Bill Gates, John Cena, Ashton Kutcher, Justin Trudeau.” Tracy Carroll, a member of the Rotary Club of Vero Beach Sunrise, Florida, agrees. “Being in the same room with Princess Anne, Bill Gates, and others was a thrill,” she says.

Smarge says members should expect a varied program that includes experts on environmental issues. “This will be the first in-person convention since the adoption of our new area of focus, protecting the environment,” he says. “We hope to reflect that both in the way we conduct the convention, and in our speakers. My personal goal is to assure that we schedule a diverse lineup of speakers.”

6. You will experience a new city

Houston’s reputation as the city that launched America’s exploration of space is well deserved, and, as mentioned, its space center definitely warrants a visit. But there are many more places to explore. At least 145 languages are spoken in the Houston metro area, and that diversity has spilled over into the local food, music, and art scenes. There are world-class museums, such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Lone Star Flight Museum, and the highly rated Children’s Museum Houston.

Houstonians also dine out more often than the average American, so restaurants are plentiful. The city’s trademark food offerings include Gulf Coast oysters, crawfish drenched in spices, Tex-Mex, and, of course, barbecue — but imaginative chefs representing the city’s diverse cultures also are providing culinary surprises aplenty.

On the convention’s opening night, the host committee will stage a welcome event at Discovery Green, a park in the heart of the city. “This is the event that everyone will be at,” says Kennedy. “There will be so much entertainment around the park, from armadillo races to an aerial act — and you won’t want to miss the huge grand finale.”

7. You’ll be struck by Rotary’s power to connect you to the world

Giselle Holder has traveled to four Rotary conventions. And though she doesn’t recall every speaker that she has heard or every plenary session that she has attended, she does remember how being at the convention makes her feel. “There is this electric atmosphere,” Holder says. “There’s nothing like walking through the House of Friendship surrounded by thousands of Rotary members from around the world.”

Holder attended her first convention in 2011 when she was a member of the Rotaract Club of Port of Spain West, Trinidad and Tobago. It was a financial stretch — and a lengthy journey. “We flew from Trinidad to Miami, and then took a bus for 23 hours to New Orleans,” she recalls. But, she adds, it was worth it. “That was the first time I saw what Rotary can be and the reach of Rotary across the world. That was my ‘wow’ moment. Rotary is so much bigger than my club or my country.”

In 2017, Holder joined the Rotary Club of Maraval. She says going to conventions helped keep her excitement for Rotary alive. “Conventions remind you of how many things are happening worldwide that require our assistance,” she says. “You always meet someone new, someone willing to partner on a project. It’s a great way to discover new opportunities in Rotary.”

• Register for the 2022 Rotary Convention in Houston at

• This story originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.