My Rotary Youth Exchange — this year has opened my eyes

Originally posted on Rotary Voices:

Victoria Alvarez and other youth exchange students during their trip to the West Coast of the United States.

Victoria Alvarez and other youth exchange students during their trip to the West Coast of the United States.

By Victoria Alvarez, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Argentina to the United States

Most of you have probably heard of Rotary Youth Exchange, and maybe some of you have even been involved with the program. I recently completed my exchange year in the United States, and wanted to share the perspective of someone who has just taken part in one.

I come from Argentina, a little country on the edge of South America that you may have heard of recently because of the World Cup. It is in many ways very different from the United States. In signing up for an exchange to America, I stepped out alone into a culture unlike any I had experienced, in an unfamiliar environment, in a house I did not know, to live with people…

View original 386 more words

#WomenWednesday Rotary Profile – Erica Lee Garcia

ELG Twitter header - lrg
We are pleased to profile Rotarian, Erica Lee Garcia. Erica joined the Rotary Club of Kitchener just over a year ago. An engineer, she leads her own consulting and professional services firm and is a heavily involved with Engineers Without Borders.

Why did you join Rotary?

I was invited by my aunt Patricia Dimeck; she spoke so highly of the international projects she’d volunteered on that I was motivated to check out what it was all about.

There was a Rotary club in my hometown (Walkerton) so I knew about Rotary exchange students and the musical festival, but it never really occurred to me join myself.  But the giving back element of Rotary seemed a natural continuation of the volunteering I’d been doing since childhood, and I loved the idea of knitting that experience into my life here in KW. team

How would you describe your “Rotary path”?

It’s a short but exciting one:  I joined just over a year ago, and just about immediately became a counsellor to Jessica, our club’s inbound exchange student from Taiwan.  I attended a few district events and met some great young Rotarians whom I have agreed to mentor.

I also helped to give away a Mercedes as part of the club’s fundraising car draw.  That was so much fun!

I am now helping the PR committee boost all our membership and fundraising initiatives and contributing to the Club’s first PR handbook.  

How does Rotary align with your own values?

I always look for opportunities to give of myself and to contribute to the world I want to see.  I aspire to be creative with my professional skills and how they can be applied outside the box toward furthering the changes that I believe in. I also look to cultivate a community with like-minded individuals wherever I can; you get more done and it’s more fun than trying to go it alone!

Rotary fits in perfectly with this. 

What have been a defining moment in your life? 

After working nearly a decade as an engineer in manufacturing and mining, I quit a well-paying job that didn’t align with my values in 2009 and went traveling.  I ended up volunteering in Ecuador and Argentina on various non-profit helping initiatives that utilized my skills as a manufacturing engineer and change agent in very unexpected ways.

When I came home I started doing freelance consulting to help businesses reduce their costs by improving their business processes always toward the goal of bettering the work experience for people.   Then I started a mentoring and coaching service for young engineering students and recent grads to give them the benefit of some of my experience and help them find their way.

While speaking at an Engineers Without Borders Canada conference at Queen’s University (my alma mater) I was approached by that organization to partner on speaking to kids about engineering in new and creative ways.

Deciding to become an entrepreneur was without a doubt the most important turning point of my life so far.  I enjoy the social aspect of Rotary since I work by myself a lot and that can get lonely!  Also, I enjoy the chance to network and learn from experienced and accomplished professionals in many different industries in my Rotary club.

What do you consider your greatest Rotary moment?20140616_134500

Watching Jessica give her year-end presentation at our club meeting was a wonderful experience for me; she was so happy and animated as she spoke of her year in Canada and showed us photos of all her exciting excursions and activities.  I felt really proud of her and glad that I had the chance to support her.

As we speak she is making her way across Canada with several fellow inbound Rotary exchange students and having a blast!  When I was a teenager I met Mirjam, a Rotary exchange student from Holland who attended my high school.  Today I am still in touch with Mirjam who emigrated to Canada as an adult.  She lives close by with her husband and young girls, and they love it here, so I know the power of a Rotary exchange to change lives!

Whatever Jessica does in the future, it feels great to have touched a young person’s life and to have had the chance watched her grow.

What are your future Rotary goals, both short‐term and long‐term?

Engineers Without Borders Canada is very well-aligned with Rotary’s international projects, so I dream of further connecting those two wonderful organizations to create some powerful impact overseas.  Also, I sing with Grand Harmony, a local chapter of Sweet Adelines International, and I think that a Rotary singing event would be great fun!

If you could tell another woman one thing about Rotary membership, what would it be?

It’s a very professional and welcoming environment.  Think about joining up – your contribution will be greatly valued and you will meet lots of great people.

There’s no catch, and lots of great opportunity!  I’d welcome the chance to chat with anyone who is considering Rotary membership and not sure if it’s for them.

To find out more about Rotary and how you can have an impact locally or globally, contact us by email at RotaryKitchener@gmail.com or visit our website, our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.

#WomenWednesday Rotary Profile – Patsy Marshall

PM Twitter header - lrg

On June 25th, Rotarians of District 7080 will welcome new District Governor (DG), Patsy Marshall. We are thrilled to profile our incoming DG in this edition of Women in Rotary.

A member of the Guelph Trillium Rotary Club, Patsy has had a distinguished record of service in Rotary. As a passionate, dedicated Rotarian, she has been involved in a variety of club and district committees, has served on her club’s Board of Directors, and was President of her club in 2000/2001. During her year as President, her club chartered the Rotary Club of Guelph South. It has since become a vibrant club.

Patsy was an Assistant Governor with the Guelph Wellington Cluster, in 2010 and 2011, taking on a variety of assignments. She continues to be actively involved as a member of the District Training Committee, especially with President Elect Training (PETS) I and II, and Club Leadership Training. She is a member of the District Foundation Committee, the District Conference Planning Committee, and is an engaged, certified instructor with the Rotary Leadership Institute (RLI). Patsy speaks at Camp Enterprise, and at the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) program, as an avid supporter of young adults. She has encouraged other clubs to support Youth Services.

Patsy is a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and is a member of the Paul Harris Society. In addition, Patsy has been involved with numerous community boards and committees, as a leader and as a member, throughout her lifetime. In 2012, she received the Woman of Distinction Award for Training and Education, from the YW/YMCA of Guelph. She has also received the J. David Stewart Award from Conestoga College, in 2007, for excellence in teaching and leadership.

Married to Jim, owner of Vac-Man, they live in Guelph and have two grown children; Peter and Heather, a daughter-in-law Natalie and a son-in-law Matt. In addition to family outings and getting together with friends, international travelling and gardening are passions for Jim and Patsy.

As a farm girl, Patsy was educated at Medway High School in Arva, and then attended the University of Guelph (B.A.Sc. 1974 and a M.Sc. in 1976). Her career has been in health care and education, and her vocational classification is Adult Education. She served in senior leadership roles in respiratory medicine for eight years and was Director of Education for Homewood Health Centre (a psychiatric hospital) for eight years. Patsy has owned her own training and development company, Train on Track, for over 20 years and focuses on training soft/people skills to develop the human side of business. She continues to offer leadership and management training programs to several Top Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Patsy continues to teach with Conestoga College, Sheridan College, the University of Guelph, Brock University, and BlCVeWlIUAIfiSlthe University of Waterloo. Patsy’s distinguished career has provided her with unique leadership opportunities as she has developed colleagues and coached many high performing teams.

Patsy is excited about the new challenge ahead as District Governor for 7080, supported by fellow Rotarians, family and friends. She hopes that during her year, her District will continue to be a resource to clubs, encouraging Rotarians in District 7080 to reflect on what Rotary means to them and their contributions to the world of Rotary as they Light Up Rotary! 

Q. Why did you join Rotary?

I liked what my [Rotary] sponsor told me – sounded like I would be joining other professionals to make a difference in my community and around the world. And there would be fun!

Q. How would you describe your Rotary experience in one word?

Rewarding.

Q. What was your Rotary Path?

I began my professional career as a teacher at the Rotary Children`s Centre (Guelph) with five special needs children aged 18 months to three years of age—all in diapers. At that time, I didn`t know what Rotary was, or what the wheel affixed to the building meant.

I joined the Rotary Club of Guelph Trillium in 1996. By 2000-2001 I was President. After this, I joined the District training team. From 2008-2010, I had the privilege to be the Assistant Governor of the Guelph-Wellington Cluster. In 2011/12 I was invited to be the District Governor Nominee Nominee. The last two years have been a whirlwind. Now I am looking forward to the honour of accepting the role of 7080 District Governor 2014/15.

Along the way, I have received multiple Paul Harris fellows and I enjoy being one of the facilitators with the 7080 Rotary Leadership Institute team.

Q. What was the greatest challenge you`ve ever faced?  

As a child, I required major surgeries for a bone condition which impacted my physical ability. My parents were brave and prepared me for what was to come.

Because the surgery I had as an infant had not been successful, I had to wear steel braces until my 13th birthday. When I went in for surgery again, this time with a more successful outcome, my mother told me that I would need to learn to walk all over again. I thought she was joking. She wasn`t.

I still remember my dogged determination to get on my feet as soon as possible. After being in a body cast for five months, and two months of rehabilitation, I was chasing those young interns and my orthopaedic surgeon around!

Most children at school were wonderful, too. They always included me. I played baseball and was goalie in soccer – although I let more balls go in the net, than I stopped. My brother and sister were supportive, too. I was not treated differently which really helped me to overcome adversity and become self-confident.

I bring the lessons I learned during my childhood to every challenge I face.

Q. What`s the best advice about Rotary you`ve received?

Remember to consider the big picture items in Rotary. I received this sage advice from Past District Governor, Ian Ferguson.

Q. Rotary does Rotary align with your own values? 

I have always been a giver and Rotary enables me to share my vocation to make a difference in people`s lives.

Q. What Rotary initiatives are you passionate about?  

So many things!

And, of course, Club fellowship and connections with similar-minded individuals. All of the above come with membership, and being an active member.

Q. Do you think Rotary membership adds positive value for woman?

Yes; all of the above and brings a sense of inner peace.

Q. If you could tell another woman one thing about Rotary membership, what would it be?

You will never regret becoming a Rotarian.

Q. What do you consider to be your greatest Rotary moment?

Being told I would become a Rotary District Governor!

To find out more about Rotary and how you can have an impact locally or globally, visit the Guelph Trillium Rotary Club website, or check out the District 7080 Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

Mediation in the life of a peace builder

Originally posted on Rotary Voices:

Dimitra Messini, left, discusses mediation with another participant of the workshop.

Dimitra Messini, left, discusses mediation with another participant of the workshop.

By Dimitra Messini, a 2013-15 Rotary Peace Fellow at International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan 

Having chosen to pursue human rights as a lawyer, mediation has been a major part of my life. Even in my home country of Greece where mediation is not a popular practice, I have used mediation to resolve issues, helping married couples in prolonged disputes or companies with substantial lawsuits. Every kind of law, from criminal to civil, has a place for mediation. 

View original 413 more words

Kitchener Rotary Down Under

The ramblings of a first-time Rotary International Conference goer

badge

G’day from Sydney!

This is my first Rotary International (RI) Conference. The conference is a privilege and requirement for incoming Presidents of the Rotary Club of Kitchener; and certainly something I was looking forward to. I viewed it as a chance to connect with Rotarians across the globe and discover a bit about the southern hemisphere.

But, only one day into the conference, what I have found is so much more.

unnamed (8)

Since arriving nearly a week ago, David and I found the watermark of Rotary everywhere. Stepping off the plane, we were greeted by two Rotarians from Australia—Past District Governor, Alex McHarg and David Martin—as well as a volunteer friend, Robert Scott. The trio helped us with travel information and offered a friendly face after the fifteen-hour plane ride.

greeters IMG_20140604_161746_edit

This welcoming atmosphere would be replicated right across the city over the course of the next week. Where ever we went, Sydney welcomed us with specular restaurants, Rotary flags lining the streets, and the incredible Vivid Light Show which included a display of the Rotary wheel.

bill gatesarchieIMG_20140603_145926_editIMG_20140603_145919_edit

We quickly discovered that a simple Rotary pin gave us free access to all means of transport; bus, ferry, and their sophisticated network of trains. A gift from our generous host state, New South Wales. A gift we put to great use exploring the city.

unnamed (1)

Although the trains of Sydney are traditionally quiet (in fact, they have entire cars dedicated for this purpose), the trains to Sydney Olympic Park for the opening ceremonies was anything but! Stuffed with Rotarians from the four corners of the globe, laughter and camaraderie echoed freely throughout the cars of the train. Many people meeting for the first time and filled with excited anticipation of the day ahead.

IMG_20140603_172223_edit unnamed (2)

 

I rode the train with new friends from Arizona and a community radio host, Peter Saville from Mid North Coast of New South Wales. An outside observer would think we’d known each other for longer than just 30 minutes!

greeter

We were greeted on the Olympic Park platform by a jazz band playing despite a soft drizzle. Peter promptly informed us that jazz is very popular on Australia, with its own dedicated station. In the midst of the Park the Olympic Caldron burned brightly. Special authorization was granted to have the caldron lit in recognition of the many Rotarians who hosted Olympic families.

With over 20,000 in attendance, it was no wonder we soon lost each other in the House of Friendship. The building, dubbed The Billabong (the waterhole) by Australia’s indigenous people, was an enormous space. It was fitted with replica outback homesteads and pseudo-habitats—even an enormous replica Harbour Bridge!

unnamed (4)unnamed

unnamed (5)

To secure a good seat for the opening ceremonies (this year’s conference is so full that they’ve had to arrange two opening ceremonies!), I made my way to the AllPhones Arena. The arena was typically reserved for entertainment industry’s most prestigious and spectacular events. On my way I crossed paths with another President Elect, Karen Morgan. Karen is incoming President of the Rotary Club of Juneau. We shared stories of our clubs and hopes for our upcoming leadership roles. I was intrigued to learn that her club is nearly 50 per cent female and they have found an interesting way to engage young professionals—especially new moms. She was interested in our President’s Advisory Breakfast and our wine quizzes.

We were successful in our efforts, locating two seats on the floor in the second section. We were soon join by the very outgoing, District Governor Elect for 5440, Julie Phares. She danced away with Human Nature and even showed us the tattoo of the Rotary wheel that she had been dared to get when she accepted the DG role. I can’t wait to share this bit of information with our own DG Nominee, Bill Proctor!

The ceremonies launched with a stunning performance by traditional dancers from the NSW Public Schools Traditional Dance Company. The performance was a ‘welcome’ to the Rotarians gathered on aboriginal lands by the aboriginal custodians of the land. It was very powerful. After which, Convention Chair Mark Maloney took to the stage to welcome everyone. He rang the bell like he’d been waiting ten years to do it (and he had!).

The Rotary Parade of Flags were delivered to the stadium by the young men and women of Australia’s Surf Life Saving. The group, known for their selfless acts of bravery, rowed the flags to the stadium starting at Manly Beach. The reading of the 180 countries (including the recent addition of Myanmar!) was provided by RI Director-elect, Julie Phelps.

1508539_10152893073819552_2709373068335957693_n

The Honourable Mike Baird, Premier of New South Wales (only six weeks into his role) told those gathered that he’d seen the great work of Rotary tackling issues such as homelessness and mental health. He went on to say that when emergencies broke out, like bush fires and floods, Rotarians were always prepared to step up; to say, “we are here to help.”

But it was the surprise announcement of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott—whose father Dick, a 40-year Rotarian, was in attendance—that drew the greatest applause. Abbot stated that his government would commit a whopping $100 million towards fighting polio! He also dubbed everyone in the crowd “honorary Australians.”

Canada’s Monty Audenart introduced RI President Ron Burton. Burton highlighted the innovative work being done on every corner of the globe to change lives, all in the name of Rotary.

When the lights finally came up, the convention hall was electric! Everyone excited for the days ahead and proud to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. I wondered how I would ever be able to bring the essence of the day back to our Club in a meaningful way.

On the way out I ran into our unstoppable District Governor-elect, Patsy Marshall, and rode the train back to my hotel with the Rotarian couple; District Governor Debra Rodenbaugh-Schaub and Past President of Konza Rotary Club, Patrick Schaub. They shared a very touching story about how they met and married because of Rotary. “He came pre-screened,” said Debra, referring to the Rotary four-way test.

Changing for final train, I was stopped by one of the many Rotarians in yellow vests stationed on the platforms.

unnamed (6)

“You’re from Kitchener,” he said reading my badge. He beamed as he pointed out a small gold pin on his lanyard that read, “Kitchener”. “I met a Rotarian from Kitchener earlier today and he gave me this pin.”

I smiled. “Was his name John Thompson?”

“It was!” he responded.

Today I was reminded how proud I am to be a Rotarian; proud to be a part of an organization that includes so many of the wonderfully warm and friendly people I met today; and those, like John Thompson, that I have known for years.

I wonder what day two will bring…

bag

#WomenWednesday Rotary Profile – Anna Giesbrecht

AG Twitter header - lrg

We are thrilled to feature our first Rotaractor, Anna Giesbrecht. Anna is one of the people working hard to form the Rotaract Club at the University of Waterloo. Anna and her team recently celebrated the successful approval of their constitution by Feds, making the UWaterloo Rotaract Club an official club on campus. Congratulations!

Why did you join Rotaract?  I joined Rotaract because my friend had been very involved with Rotary throughout his life and was very passionate about the experiences he had the opportunity to par-take in. I began learning more about what Rotary and Rotaract were, about how they strive to serve others in their local communities and around them. This is something that resonates with me so I decided to join for more opportunity to serve others.

Can you provide me with your “Rotaract path,” highlighting experiences and accomplishments?  My time in Rotaract hasn’t been very long. My friend Timothy Souza had started looking for people who would be interested in joining a University of Waterloo Rotaract club last December, and once I learned more about what Rotaract was I decided to join. Since then a team of us have been working on getting UWaterloo Rotaract started; electing a Board, Chairs, getting people out to meetings. During this time I became the secretary, which has been an interesting experience as I’ve never done it before, and we were able to get our constitution approved by Feds, thus becoming an official club on campus! Since the last few months have just been setting the foundation for the group we’re taking the summer to plan meetings and events for the fall term.

Tell me about your values and how Rotaract/Rotary aligns with these?  One of my strongest values is to treat others with the same respect as you wish to be given. I also believe that we all have a duty to look out for one another, to help each other prosper and heal. I found that this aligns with what Rotary stands for as they openly promote ‘service above self’. This is part of what really drew me to Rotary, as their goal is to help others and help create strong community bonds.

What are your future Rotaract/Rotary goals, both short‐term and long‐term?  Currently, to continue to help UWaterloo Rotaract grow, get more members, do more events, raise money and awareness – make a difference. In the short term we need to find people to sit on the Board and be Chairs for the Committees for once we leave. In the long term, I personally hope we can do an international trip with the group – whether it be to a Rotary conference or to learn more about how other people live and what we can do to support them.

If you could tell another woman one thing about Rotaract/Rotary membership, what would it be?  It’s a great place where your voice can be heard, where you can take leadership and affect change – both within the organization and around it.

Do you think Rotaract/Rotary membership adds positive value for woman? If so, how (e.g. networking, mentorship, community involvement, leadership, etc.)  Though I haven’t been involved for very long I can definitely say joining can add positive value for a woman. It gives the opportunity to meet women from all walks of life; different career paths, different ages and backgrounds. To form connections and relationships with these people offers so much more opportunity for learning. I think having women form mentoring relationships with each other would be very beneficial as you can learn about life through one another’s experiences. As well, to encourage each other to take leadership positions within Rotary is essential for Rotary’s growth and development over future years.

To find our more about the UWaterloo Rotaract Club, visit them on Twitter at @uwrotaractclub.