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Club innovation: Corporate citizens

Club Innovation: After weighing corporate membership models to energize its roster, the club chose an approach pioneered by other clubs in District 6540 and turned to local businesses to sponsor employees as Rotarians. Nine members and counting have signed on under the program, which provides the newcomers flexibility in attendance. Their employers pay club, district, and RI dues.

An expanded community: Located between Chicago and Indianapolis, a few miles off an interstate highway, DeMotte, Indiana, is a bedroom community; many residents commute to nearby jobs in light manufacturing or agriculture. The Rotary Club of DeMotte-Kankakee Valley embraces community initiatives funded with the proceeds of its annual 5K race, the Rotary Ramble, and joins district clubs to construct water tanks in Guanajuato, Mexico. They are tasks that might be typical for a club in a small town of 4,000 people. But appearances can be deceiving: The club is using corporate memberships to reach out to the business community.

Rotary Club of DeMotte-Kankakee Valley, Indiana Chartered: 1979 Original membership:26 Current membership: 49   

Deann Patena’s knowledge of Rotary came from her job booking meeting space for a large hotel and entertainment complex that served as the home base of the Rotary Club of Merrillville, Indiana. 

“I was familiar with the people – they were always very nice,” Patena says, though she never imagined herself joining. The doing of good deeds at home and abroad, she assumed, might be too costly for a hospitality worker with a young child.

But after the venue shuttered about two years ago, Patena landed a similar job at Fair Oaks Farms, an agricultural tourism attraction that offers eateries, exhibits, and a chance to get up close with barnyard animals. In October 2017, a month after she started her new position, Patena’s supervisor asked if she would be the farm’s representative to the DeMotte Rotary Club. “I did not ever think I would be a Rotarian,” says Patena, but she accepted because she wanted to meet local business leaders. And her company would be covering the fees. 

The enlistment of the farm and other corporate sponsors was the work of club member Dan Ryan, 2018-19 governor of District 6540. He credits the Rotary Club of Portage, Indiana, for laying out the options that work for DeMotte: Companies pay the monthly dues for the employee representatives. The attendance rules depend on the number of employees registered: two meetings per month for one company representative, or one meeting monthly for each of two representatives. The newcomers are full-fledged Rotarians. “We wanted every corporate member to be a Rotarian and have every right and privilege of being a Rotarian,” Ryan says.

Ryan recalls his first solicitation, a call on the chief financial officer at the Hamstra Group, a real estate and construction concern. “He said, ‘We were just talking to two of our younger officers and emphasizing the importance of being involved in your local community,’” Ryan says. In short order, two company vice presidents, Eric Van Kley and Bruce Przybylski, were inducted into the club, supported by the firm. 

Przybylski, busy as a coach for his children’s sports teams, appreciates the more lenient attendance requirements. “It’s a way to do a little more for the community and for Rotary worldwide,” he says. Patena lauds the club’s drive to involve new members in committees. “I’ve found it very engaging and informative,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much smaller towns value the support of the clubs.”

Ryan believes the infusion of new spirit has paid dividends for his club. “They bring an energy, and they bring more hands to projects,” he says. “We had gotten older as a club, so you’re not able to do the projects like you used to when you were 20 years younger.” And for sponsoring businesses, the benefit is immeasurable. “One advantage is serving the community,” Ryan says, “but also offering your employees leadership training and the opportunity to network and to be mentored by older businesspeople in the community.” 

—  Brad Webber

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