Successful women mentor youth through Rotary

Clara Montanez attends a reception in 2013 for the Champions of Change honorees at the White House in Washington D.C.
Photo Credit: Rotary Images

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."

Read a blog post from Montanez

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#1   Submitted By Jacqueline Huie on 8-Mar-2016 10:58 am

Arnold Grahl - Thank you for giving tribute to Successful Women in Rotary and for shedding light on the importance of mentoring. Very well written article. For those interested in easy to utilize tools for mentoring, visit

#2   Submitted By Tin Tin Raschid on 9-Mar-2016 03:55 pm

Hi Clara,

Congrats. Sorry I could not attend yesterday as it was clashing with the meeting of the Woman's Club of Bethesda where I had inducted 2 new members. But 2 members from my RoatryeClub attended a nd was very impressed. Thanks for organizing it.

#3   Submitted By Peter Kyle on 9-Mar-2016 04:43 pm

This was a fabulous occasion.  All credit to Clara Montanez for arranging the event. Special kudos to RID Jennifer Jones for a wonderful introduction. The presentations by the two key panelists - Deepa Willingham and Marion Bunch - were incredibly inspiring and moving. What great role models they were to the 500 + Rotarians and World Bank staff who attended the event.


#4   Submitted By Elizabeth Cox on 10-Mar-2016 01:37 am

Excellent , how can someone from my part of the world arrange such an event. We are always looking to get speakers like Deepa.

#5   Submitted By Mahesh Bhagwat on 10-Mar-2016 04:40 am

Congratulations. Excellent writeup Mr Arnold Graham. 

#6   Submitted By George Ogombe on 11-Mar-2016 09:31 am

Hi Rtn. Clara,

This is captivating ! I have learnt quite a lot what mentoring can do to our Rotaractors and Interactors.

PAG, GPO.Ogombe, RC Nakuru -The Great Rift Valley. District 9212.

#7   Submitted By SUNIL KUMAR C.V on 12-Mar-2016 06:36 am

"Frankly, I was dragged into Rotary. I didn't see a connection at first,"

#8   Submitted By Lani Diaz on 12-Mar-2016 08:18 am

Nice write up, mentoring young ones like my daugther she join me in some of our projects and now she's already our new member. 

#9   Submitted By Arle Macapagal on 12-Mar-2016 06:34 pm

This was a great story shared to proud rotarian philippines rotary club of san jose golden harvest

#10   Submitted By Kathy Coyle on 14-Mar-2016 02:43 pm

Congratulations to Clara! I have worked with her with the COANIQUEM Burned Children Foundation for several years.  She and I also share a passion for mentoring youth, mine being with Middle Schoolers and Interactors. It is a joy to read this.

#11   Submitted By Paulène Joseph on 14-Mar-2016 07:01 pm

Compliments,  Clara!

#12   Submitted By Reiji Tada on 15-Mar-2016 09:46 am


#13   Submitted By Laura Muñoz Mendoza on 17-Mar-2016 02:04 pm

Un gran ejemplo de lo que Rotary hace surgir en cada uno de nosotros desde nuestras trincheras

#14   Submitted By Nivea Laporte on 20-Mar-2016 09:53 am

Hello everyone , my name emerlinda , secretary of the 2015-2016 mandate and elected Presidente of Camayenne 2016-2017 Rotaract club , D9101 , GUINEA , Please Adding , qulqu one wants it to international action with me? Thank you to those who will answer

#15   Submitted By Matilde Campusm... on 9-Nov-2016 10:40 am

Hi Nivea. We ALL TOGETHER are able to SERVE HUMANITY. I hope to know about you, very soon. Bye!!!

#16   Submitted By Matilde Campusm... on 9-Nov-2016 10:41 am

Hi Nivea. We ALL TOGETHER are able to SERVE HUMANITY. I hope to know about you, very soon. Bye!!!