Erin Mills had just finished teaching for the day in Montevideo, Uruguay, when her smartphone buzzed with a message.
An impromptu gathering to watch Uruguay's World Cup soccer match was being organized. Through the power of a mobile messaging app, a majority of the Rotary Club of Plaza Matriz had soon assembled at a member's home to munch on baked goods and chips while rooting for their national team.
That enthusiasm and ability to draw a crowd has made the club, which just received its charter in July, a success in the country's capital city. Made up almost entirely of young professionals, it is the kind of club Rotary is eager to have more of. It has also served as a bridge back to Rotary for former members of Rotaract, who must leave the program when they turn 30.
Mills says she could tell the club had something special by its third meeting. "It turned into a brainstorming session of all the projects we wanted to do. No idea was too large or too small."
An "Oscars for Rotary"
The club has partnered with PORSALEU, a local charity that provides a place for leukemia patients and their families to stay close to the hospital when they travel to the city for treatment. They held their first fundraiser during the World Cup, auctioning off a jersey signed by Uruguayan footballer Cristian Rodríguez -- through social media. And they're planning a Rotary award night to recognize and encourage humanitarian service, which they are calling the "Golden Wheel."
"It's like an Oscars for Rotary," Mills explains. "Clubs that enter have a chance to win a Golden Wheel in categories such as best outreach program for new members, best service project."
Members are conducting workshops to teach other Rotary members in the city how to use social media to their advantage.
How the club got started
For Mills, the club has also offered a way to get reestablished in Uruguay. She came to Montevideo in 2008 on a scholarship sponsored by the Rotary Club of Casa Grande, Arizona, USA, and joined the Rotaract Club of Paso Molino.
After completing her scholarship, she returned to Arizona and began a long-distance relationship with one of the Rotaractors she had met during her studies. Realizing that her heart was in Uruguay in more ways than one, she completed an advanced degree in bilingual education and returned. She is now teaching future English language educators at the University of Montevideo and middle school students from around the world at an American International School.
Finding a new group to connect with wasn't initially easy. She looked for a Rotary club to join but couldn't find one that "had the right vibe." They either were too far from her home or didn't offer the sense of family she was searching for as an expatriate.
Many of her friends had left the Paso Molino Rotaract Club.
About the same time, Nicolas Ortiz, a member of the Rotary Club of Montevideo and chair of the district's New Generations committee, began running into many of Mills' old friends. He realized that all of these former Rotaractors and the former Rotary Scholar would be the ideal core for a new club, so he encouraged them to start one.
"We were all a little intimidated by the responsibility. Where do you even start? And then there's the financial responsibility involved," Mills recalls. "But he helped us and got his club to sponsor many of our costs, and his club eventually became our sponsor club."
From there, district leaders took the group under their wing. Past District Governor Antonio Nocetti Ruiz got other district officers together to advise them on the steps they needed to take to found the club and even attended many of the unofficial planning meetings.
"We're excited to bring Rotary into the next generation," says Mills.