When Clara Montanez was a student, she never heard the word mentoring. The idea of having a role model help you pursue your ambitions was unfamiliar to her.
"You basically chose your career based on personal interest and hoped you could find a job," says Montanez, senior director of investment for Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. "I went the route of getting married and having children first, and started my career later in life. I had no model for how to do that."
That changed for Montanez the day a friend invited her to join Rotary.
"Frankly, I was dragged into Rotary. I didn't see a connection at first," says Montanez, who's been a member of the Rotary Club of Washington, D.C., since 2003. "But then I met several women, including Doris Margolis, who took me under her wing and started mentoring me on how to get more involved. I began seeing the value in having someone I could count on as a mentor, and I have become more of a leader in our club, in my community, and at work."
Rotary's mentoring opportunities motivated Montanez, Rotary's alternate representative to the Organization of American States, to help organize an event for International Women's Day, 8 March. The event, to be held at the World Bank Group headquarters in Washington, will feature Deepa Willingham and Marion Bunch, both previously honored as Rotary Women of Action. Rotary International Director Jennifer Jones will moderate the event, which will be streamed on World Bank Live.
Montanez says Rotary has given her a platform to mentor young women as they balance career and family, as well as manage the challenge of repaying student loans. According to a recent study by the American Association of University Women, the student loan debt burden weighs more heavily on women because of the persistent gap in pay between women and men.
"I think Rotary has given me access to young people, like Rotaractors, and they are ready to accept guidance because Rotary is a safe place to reach out and get advice," says Montanez.
Similarly, Jackie Huie, a member of the Rotary Club of St. Joseph & Benton Harbor, Michigan, USA, recognizes Rotary's mentoring power. In 2007, Huie's club created a program that matches high school juniors and seniors with a mentor in the field they'd like to enter. The program started with 40 students at one high school and has now expanded into schools across the area.
"I got a letter from a girl who came from a poor background, and through the program, she got a chance to meet with an attorney in town," says Huie, president of JohnsonRauhoff, a multimedia company that fosters creative thinking for artists. "It inspired her and gave her confidence to go to school and study law. She got accepted into four law schools and is on her way to becoming an attorney."
Besides the investment in young people's futures, mentoring brings clubs important community recognition. For example, Huie's club has 150 members, a large number for a club that doesn't hold membership drives, she says.
"Everyone in southwest Michigan knows about Rotary," says Huie. "We had a student who wanted to be a CEO for a large corporation. After we arranged for him to meet with the CEO of Whirlpool, his father was so impressed with the whole program that he joined Rotary."
Many of the program's early participants went on to form an Interact club, and there are now more than 200 Interact members at four area schools. Forty of them will travel to the Dominican Republic this summer to install water filters and take part in a medical mission.
"It's important for Rotary to make an investment in young people," says Huie. "My own daughter is in Interact because of my membership in Rotary. I think her world is broader, and she looks at the world differently. We all do, because of what we've learned through Rotary."