When it comes to Rotary, Mitty Chang is practically a lifer – and he's only 26. Chang joined Interact 10 years ago in Fremont, Calif., where almost a quarter of the 2,000 students at his high school were Interactors. He went on to organize two Rotaract clubs. Now an entrepreneur who works with small businesses and nonprofits to build their online identity and brand, he plans to become a Rotarian within the next few years. "I expect to have a long life in Rotary," he says. We caught up with Chang at the 2014 Rotary convention in Sydney, Australia, to find out what being a member of the Rotary family means to him.
THE ROTARIAN: What has kept you involved in Rotary?
CHANG: I joined my Interact club with my friends. But I ended up staying because I enjoyed the warm fuzzies you get from volunteering. Rotaract has been my passion over the past few years. I owe so much to the Rotary family. Most of my good friends come from Rotary, and I met my girlfriend through Rotaract. I run a Web design business, and 90 percent of my clients are connections I've made somewhere through the Rotary family. It's crazy how much Rotary is integrated into my life.
TR: Rotary was founded in part for business networking. Do you think that's still an emphasis?
CHANG: I've traveled around the United States and talked to a lot of Rotary clubs. At many of them, it's almost taboo to talk about your own business during a club meeting. But I find that with Rotaractors and young Rotarians, they're looking to connect and grow professionally. That's one of the things I look for too.
TR: Why do you think a young professional might join Rotaract rather than Rotary?
CHANG: Look at how your club meets. Meeting any time other than after 5 p.m. is almost impossible for younger professionals, who may not own their own business or be managers yet. And when you're in your 20s, your life can change in an instant. It could be that you're moving, you've received a promotion, a raise, a transfer, or you graduate from college. That's one of the reasons Rotaract is so important. We're Rotarians in training. Rotaract is a good segue into Rotary.
TR: How have the leadership skills that you've developed in Rotaract clubs translated to your career?
CHANG: I would attribute 90 percent of my public speaking skills to my Rotaract experience. I was president of two clubs, which has given me a lot of opportunities to speak in front of a crowd, perfect that, and get over it. And I've been fortunate to have been invited to Rotary institutes for my zone and some of the district conferences on the West Coast as a speaker.
TR: You've been to seven conventions. Why do you keep coming back?
CHANG: If I had a turning point in my Rotary life, it would be my first convention, in 2007 in Salt Lake City. I will never forget the opening plenary session. It was cool to see how everyone is a part of this whole family. The reason I keep going back to these conventions is that every year I make new friends, and I get the chance to see my old friends. That's something I would travel around the world to do anyway, but to do it with Rotary is 10 times better. I can go into downtown Sydney, walk into a restaurant and see someone with a Rotary emblem, and strike up a conversation.
Adapted from a story in the March 2015 issue of The Rotarian