Ron D. Burton
Growing up in Duncan, Okla., USA, I took it for granted that everyone could read. In my own elementary school, not only were we expected to be reading by the age of seven or eight, we were expected to read upside down. We each took turns reading books to the entire class, and of course, if you want to read out loud to a group while you show them the pictures, you can't do it the right way up. All the way through elementary school, we did that every week, until it didn't really matter to us which way we were holding the book.
I never thought too much about that skill at the time. But a few months ago, on a visit to a Rotary project in Decatur, Ala., I walked into a first-grade classroom and was asked if I would read a book to a class of six-year-olds. Naturally, I was happy to oblige. I sat down, opened the book they had chosen, and started reading to about 30 little kids – upside down, just the way I did it back in second grade.
In a sense, I was doing exactly what I'd learned to do more than half a century earlier. But as an adult, and especially as a Rotarian, I saw that experience in a different way. I was reading to a group of children who were well on their way to literacy themselves. We were sitting in their classroom, in a school where Rotarians came every week to read one-on-one with children who needed a little extra help. There wasn't any question that every child in that room would grow up to be a literate adult. And all of them took that completely for granted – as they took it for granted that adults would care enough to read them a book while showing them the pictures, even if that meant reading upside down.
We all know that millions of children all over the world aren't that lucky. That's why we make basic education and literacy a priority in our Rotary service. As we mark Literacy Month in Rotary, we remind ourselves what a gift we are giving when we help a child to read – whether it's a child on the other side of the world or right in our own hometown.
It was 109 years ago this month that Paul Harris and three of his friends founded the first Rotary club. His goal was simple: to create an oasis of friendship amid a city of strangers, with those who shared his values.
Over time, the philosophy of Rotary developed and matured, and Rotarian ideals expanded to include service, vocational ethics, and international understanding. As Rotary grew and spread, Paul Harris envisioned a world in which conflict would ultimately melt away – a world where personal connections and acceptance of differences would relegate war to history. If people could only come together in a spirit of friendship and tolerance, he felt, they would soon realize how much they had in common.
Paul Harris was fortunate in his lifetime to see the Rotary idea take hold and establish itself in dozens of countries around the world. Every week, in 34,000 communities, his vision lives on in every Rotary club meeting. But nowhere in the world does Paul Harris' vision take life as vividly as it does at our annual Rotary International convention.
At a convention, for a few short days, we see the world as Paul Harris imagined it: a world where men and women from every corner of the globe come together, to build peace, to serve others, and simply to enjoy one another's company. Differences of background, politics, culture, and religion are woven together, all part of one bright tapestry. It is an unforgettable experience, one that Jetta and I look forward to every year. Every convention is different, and every one becomes a memory that we cherish.
This year, I will have the tremendous privilege of presiding over the 105th Rotary International Convention in Sydney, 1-4 June. Sydney is a vibrant international hub, a gateway between East and West, and a wonderfully appropriate city to host a Rotary convention. It is tremendously diverse, rich in culture and history, and one of my favorite cities to visit; at once exciting and relaxed, it is a place where I know I will always feel at home – and always find something new to see and do.
In 2014, Rotary members will gather to say G'day from Sydney. We will come together as friends and Rotarians, to reach out to the world and to one another, in an environment where all are welcome. I hope you will join us as we celebrate our successes, look to the future, and discover new ways to Engage Rotary, Change Lives.
We often talk about Rotary as an extended family, with all of its branches and generations. We value our youth program participants and alumni as important members of the Rotary family, and we place a special emphasis on service to children and families. We do this because we know that for any family, the youngest generation is the future. That is absolutely true for us in Rotary.
We know that it is essential for us to bring in a new generation of younger Rotary members. We've spent a lot of time talking about how to attract young professionals to Rotary – but perhaps we haven't talked enough about why they don't stay.
There are plenty of young people, some of them youth program alumni, who do join Rotary. But when they begin families of their own, many of them leave. It isn't hard to see why: These are young professionals who are already spending more time than they want to away from their families. No matter how much they love and value Rotary, they are not going to prioritize their Rotary service over their spouses and children.
Nor should we ever expect them to. This is why it is so important for us to find ways to welcome families into Rotary, so that Rotary and the family are never in competition for a Rotarian's time. Whether it's by planning service projects that involve the whole family, or providing child care during meetings, or being flexible about meeting places and times, we need to make Rotary service a viable option for those with young children.
When you welcome families into Rotary, you're saying: Your family is not an obstacle to your Rotary service. They're not something that has to be scheduled around. Instead of mom or dad going out to Rotary and leaving everyone else at home, Rotary goes on the family calendar. The family of Rotary is real. Those children are going to grow up seeing their parents involved in community service, and being involved in service themselves. Not only is that a great thing for the family – it's a great thing for the Rotary club, which will be helping to nurture a new generation of active, service-minded young members.
At every stage of our lives and our careers, Rotary has something for all of us – a way to let us do more, give more, and be more. Rotary is big enough for us all.
One winter day, Rotary founder Paul Harris took a walk down a well-kept street just outside Chicago. Watching children sledding down a hillside, he recalled his own boyhood in New England. At that moment, he decided that if he ever were to own a home, it would be on top of that hill on Longwood Drive.
In 1912, Harris and his wife, Jean, made that dream a reality. They named their new home Comely Bank, after the street where Jean grew up in Scotland.
Over the years, the Harrises hosted Rotary meetings and entertained visiting dignitaries, surrounded by objects they had collected on their travels throughout the world. The trees they planted in their friendship garden still grace the yard. In 1947, Harris died there; Jean sold the home not long afterward and returned to Scotland.
The property changed hands twice more before the Paul and Jean Harris Home Foundation purchased it in 2005. Through the efforts of that group, and with the help of the Rotary clubs of Chicago and Naperville, the Harris home has been saved from demolition. Now, it is up to us to protect the home for posterity, as a place for Rotarians to gather in the spirit of friendship and service.
The RI Board has agreed to loan $500,000 to the Paul and Jean Harris Home Foundation to assist with the restoration of this irreplaceable piece of Rotary history. A goal of $5 million has been set for the project, to complete the necessary renovations and to provide an endowment fund to allow the property to operate as a museum and historic site.
I am committed to the restoration of the Paul and Jean Harris Home and hope you agree that this project is worthy of your support. My wife, Jetta, and I have made a contribution to our Rotary Foundation to establish a donor advised fund to accept contributions from anyone who shares our love of Rotary history, and our desire to preserve Rotary's past.
If you would like to join us, please go to www.rotary.org/daf and click on "How to Contribute." Include the account name, "Paul Harris Home Preservation," and number, 474. A gift of any size is welcome, and naming opportunities are available in the home and garden for those who are considering a larger gift.
We are excited to have the opportunity to celebrate the spirit of Paul Harris in this special way. Together, we can save his home for generations of Rotarians to come.
Every Rotarian joins Rotary for his or her own reasons. Often, the reason someone decides to join isn't the same as the reason that person ultimately decides to stay. When I was asked to join Rotary, I accepted because I thought it would be a good way to get more involved in my community. In the end, though, what really got me excited about Rotary service was something I didn't even know about when I joined: our Rotary Foundation.
I knew I could do plenty of good work through my Rotary club in Norman, Okla., USA. But through our Foundation, I could have a hand in the work of every single Rotary club and district around the world. I could look at any Foundation-supported project, any Foundation program, any country that was declared polio-free, and say: I helped make that happen.
Once I realized that, there wasn't any turning back.
I've been very fortunate that over the years, I've gotten to see an incredible amount of our Foundation's work firsthand. The more I see, the more passionate I become about our Foundation. When you visit a school for AIDS orphans and meet the kids who are being cared for, educated, and taught a trade – and when you know, as you look into their faces, that if it weren't for our Foundation, they would be sleeping on the street, eating out of the trash – you don't ever see our Foundation in the same way again.
We are in the middle of one of the most exciting years we have ever known for our Rotary Foundation. We've just rolled out a new grant model, one that will challenge and inspire us all to think bigger and to develop more ambitious projects that will have a more lasting impact. We've accepted a new challenge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed to match, two to one, every Rotarian dollar contributed to polio eradication for the next five years, up to US$35 million per year. And we are now fighting the final battles in our war against polio – a war we are absolutely committed to win.
Our Foundation's goal always has been Doing Good in the World. With our new grant model, we aren't going to be satisfied with simply doing good. We will do the most good we can, in the most lasting ways possible – for the people who need us the most.
In Rotary, October is the month we set aside to remind ourselves of our second Avenue of Service: vocational service. While some Rotarians call this the "forgotten" area of service, I would disagree: In fact, vocational service is the avenue through which we serve so often, we don't always recognize it as service.
Vocational service has its roots in the second object of Rotary, which encourages all Rotarians to hold high ethical standards in our business affairs and our professions, to recognize all useful occupations as worthy of respect, and to dignify work as an opportunity to serve society.
In short, the idea of vocational service is that our jobs, in themselves, are a way of serving society. Whether we are serving customers, teaching students, or treating patients, whether we're involved in commerce, research, the media, or any one of countless other fields – we take pride in doing our work with competence and integrity. Every occupation fills a need, and by doing our work well, we are contributing to our communities and our society.
The role of vocational service in the club is important, even if it isn't always prominent. By maintaining high standards individually, we earn a reputation that we share collectively. By valuing all occupations equally and by maintaining a classification system in our clubs, we ensure that our clubs reflect our communities – and can serve them well. A Rotary club of all lawyers wouldn't be capable of nearly as much as one that also had teachers, engineers, business owners, and dentists; in Rotary, our diversity is our strength. That diversity is an advantage not only to our service but to our members: It gives us all a valuable way to find the connections and opportunities that help us in our own careers.
That aspect of membership is as old as Rotary. Paul Harris himself wrote often of the business advantages of Rotary membership, believing, as I do, that being a Rotarian means a person holds a certain set of values that will make him or her a good person to do business with. Today, with the world more connected than ever, Rotary membership is an honor that we should be proud to share.
Paul Harris famously wrote, “This is a changing world: we must be prepared to change with it. The story of Rotary will have to be written again and again.” While we will never know what Rotarian Paul would have thought of the Internet Age, I think I do know what he would have said about the idea of a Rotary website: that not only should we have one, but that it should be the best possible – keeping up with advances in technology, and always responding to the needs of Rotarians.
I’m proud to announce that after a redesign that has taken two years from concept to completion, the new Rotary.org is now live and available to Rotarians and Internet users everywhere. It contains many of the features you’ve asked for, most notably a much improved search function and navigation, new ways to connect with your fellow Rotarians around the world, and a more personalized experience that will connect you with the information that’s interesting to you.
Rotary’s new website is actually two sites: one for the family of Rotary, and another for people interested in finding out more about Rotary. When you create an account and log on as a member, you’ll gain access to a host of new Rotary tools. One I hope you’ll all use is Rotary Club Central, an efficient and effective way for clubs to set goals, track their progress, and maintain continuity from one administration to the next. You can also create or join a Rotary group, an interactive discussion forum that gives you a way to find and talk to Rotarians with similar interests. You can exchange ideas and experiences, and benefit from the experiences of others from all over the world, at any time of the day or night. It’s a tool with wonderful potential to improve our service by allowing us to learn directly from others already involved in projects similar to those we might be planning.
For non-Rotarians, the new site will show what Rotary is and what we do, highlighting the uniqueness of Rotary and how Rotary clubs strengthen their communities. They’ll be able to see a snapshot of different Rotary projects and areas of service, find out more about how Rotary works, and explore ways to get involved.
I am excited about this new window on the Rotary world and invite you all to visit, explore, and learn – as we write the story of Rotary, again and again, together.
Our goal in 2013-14 is to Engage Rotary, Change Lives. All of us know that Rotary has incredible potential to do good work. It’s time to recognize how much more we could be doing and start working on new ways to turn that potential into reality. We’re going to do this by engaging Rotarians – by getting them involved, by getting them inspired, and by making sure that all Rotarians know just what a gift they have in Rotary.
We’re going to make sure that the work we do in Rotary is solid, effective, and sustainable. And we’re going to make sure that Rotary itself will last – by committing to our goal of 1.3 million Rotarians in our clubs by the year 2015.
That goal is a little different from membership goals we’ve had in the past. The goal isn’t just bringing in new members. The goal is growing Rotary. The goal is making Rotary bigger, not just with more members, but with more involved, engaged, motivated members who will be the ones to lead us into our future.
Each of us has our own reason for joining Rotary – but I believe we all want to make a difference. We all want to be doing something meaningful. That is absolutely essential for us to remember when we talk about membership.
We’re not asking just anyone to join Rotary. We’re looking to attract busy, successful, motivated people who care. We’re asking them to take their valuable time and give it to Rotary. So if they say yes, and they come and join our club, then we’d better be showing them that their time in Rotary is well spent.
We have to make sure that every Rotarian, in every club, has a meaningful job – one that makes a real difference to the club and the community. Because when you’re doing something meaningful in Rotary, Rotary is meaningful to you.
In Rotary, we all have something to give. At every stage of our lives and our careers, Rotary has something for all of us – a way to let us do more, be more, and give more. Rotary gives our lives more meaning, more purpose, and greater satisfaction. And the more we give through Rotary, the more Rotary gives back to us in return.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be a Rotarian. This Rotary year can be one of the greatest years we have yet experienced in Rotary – but it is up to each one of us. We are now writing the last chapter in our fight against polio.
While it has been a long, hard journey, we have learned many valuable lessons. We have learned that as a group we can move mountains, we can change people’s lives for the better, and we can honestly make a difference in our world. Perhaps the greatest lesson has been that the more we challenge ourselves, the more we can achieve.
We are also embarking on a new chapter in the storied history of our Rotary Foundation. We have the rare privilege of launching an entirely new grant structure we’ve come to know as Future Vision. It gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves to do the absolute most we can, with all of our resources. Just think how much more we can do with a stronger Foundation, with stronger clubs filled with more Rotarians who are fully engaged in Rotary service.
It’s time for us to recognize that the real challenge we face isn’t just bringing new members into Rotary. It’s turning all members into true Rotarians. It’s helping members get engaged in Rotary – helping them realize the potential they have, and how their Rotary service can change lives. We need to make sure that every member is active and contributing, and making a real difference – because when you’re doing meaningful work in Rotary, Rotary is meaningful to you.
When we realize what we can achieve in Rotary – when we really engage Rotary – that’s when lives change. We change the lives of the people who need us. That is inevitable. And along the way, our lives are changed as well. That is also inevitable. That’s what our theme is all about in 2013-14: Engage Rotary, Change Lives.
It’s time to open our eyes to the potential each of us has through Rotary. Rotary lets us reach higher, do more, and be a part of something larger than ourselves. No matter how much we give to Rotary, we get more in return. And that, too, is inevitable. In 2013-14, let’s turn all of our potential into reality. It’s up to us. We can do it by engaging in Rotary service, by getting involved, by staying inspired, and by remembering every day the gift we have in Rotary. Together, we will Engage Rotary, Change Lives.