#WomenWednesday Rotary Profile – Erica Lee Garcia

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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.

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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.


Day #3 Update from Agua Prieta

The school we visited yesterday, “Benito Juarez”, had a great deal of need for repairs and equipment just to ensure that the school children have the basics of clean water, etc. We distributed nearly 90 backpacks filled with useful school supplies and warm clothing.

Before we could do the grown-up Rotary stuff, the kids put on a performance for us. Under the beautiful Mexican sunshine, we enjoyed traditional songs and dances by kids from 3 1/2 years to 6 years old. It was entertaining and very well done. Their costumes were creative and the kids loved putting on the show. They had even learned to say ‘thank you” in English.


The principle showed us the needs on the property; the classrooms that don’t function well, the merger resources, and an unsanitary water supply. The teachers are dedicated and professional, but have so little to work with. It is a sharp contrast to the wealth of materials we enjoy in our schools in Ontario. We see evidence of this harsh environment in every moment throughout our day. This school is just one of many that are crying out for help in educating their children towards a better life.

This morning, Thursday, we went to visit a centre that addresses the needs of children with multiple challenges; immobility for a variety of reasons, deafness, blindness, autism, and many other disorders. The centre has three teachers who work in such primitive conditions it is heartbreaking. They use hands-on therapy like massage in the case of children who cannot see or hear, and other methods to the extent of the facilities or equipment that is available. I cannot emphasise enough how little they have to work with, and we fought back tears as we saw and heard about their dedication and caring under such great difficulty.

Our next stop was a similar centre but for older children. Here the teens learn some basic skills in carpentry, iron work, sewing and cooking. They were well supervised and cared for, and we left some backpacks for them also. They lack transportation to move the students around, and because none of them can move around the community independently, the transportation is an issue.

There are so many encounters with these gracious people, as we stop and observe their needs and use the gifts of knapsacks as an opportunity to find out how to help in a longer-term way. Our trip is drawing to a close and it is important to do our information gathering and make decisions about what the team can or cannot do this time around. There is always tomorrow, and next year, and there will always be many needs with which Rotary can help.

Day #4 Update from Nogales

It’s the day we’ve been waiting for. We wake early: breakfast, check out of our hotel, and store our luggage. No one can think of anything but the task ahead.

The American team has already left Tucson. They cross the border by foot and join us on the bus bound for the Nogales Rotary Club House. The lines were deep by the time we arrive. Recipients have been lining up since 3 a.m. The line goes down the street, winds around an empty piece of land next to the club, and further down the block. An endless sea of need, punctuated with bursts of music, dancing, and the occasional announcement.

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Now in its 16th year, we have learned a lot about the best way to
manage the 3,000 or more people who will come through. The Bomberos have helped in various capacities in the past, but are especially welcome this year. Generally the Rotaracts manage the crowds but they are away running their own project this year. One of many spinoffs that have come about because of the simple idea of giving gifts to children. Care is taken to alleviate the wait for those with mobility issues and the elderly. They separate those without tickets quickly but still these people wait patiently hoping that there will be something left.


Tables are set up outside of the clubhouse to hold groceries and blankets for those unable to negotiate the deep stairs into the clubhouse. They also hold extra blankets for those who have come simply seeking a blanket. The blankets have been donated by the State of Soriana, supplemented by Tucson and Canadian Rotarians.

A limited number of people can enter the club compound at a time. Here is where the children will come for a small gift or a coat. Many can barely contain themselves long enough to get out of the clubhouse; arms are flung into coat sleeves, gifts are hastily unwrapped.

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Those with grocery tickets are directed to the truck park alongside the club house. The truck has been provided by La Tienda Soriana and holds all the groceries we will distribute today. Each eligible recipient will receive two weeks’ worth of staples; beans, rice, oatmeal, milk, cookies, pasta, cornmeal, flour, tuna, tomato paste, lard, and soup base. Tickets are collected at each stage of the process.

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Over the course of the day, 851 bags of groceries, 1,108 blankets, 302 coats, 796 gift packages, 150 balls, and 102 matchbox toys are given out. Assorted mitts, hats, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are available to the families as well.

Though people are incredibly happy and grateful, there are difficult moments too.

My Spanish is not great, but even I can understand the heartbreak of a mother with only a grocery ticket, begging for a toy for her child, and us having none to give. We monitor our inventory right down to the last blanket to ensure we are not promising anything to people that we cannot deliver (our only flexibility is toys so that we can ensure the item is age and gender appropriate). We know that when we no longer have tickets, it means that all the items have been promised to someone.

In the days leading up to today, I have nightmares about accidentally giving out more tickets than we have items. It’s a system, and any system has its shortcomings. We try to keep accurate records of the previous year as a guide, but it doesn’t always work. Nogales is a community of people who change over time. Some years we will see a surge of infants, other years hardly any. It is difficult to truly prepare for this.

As the day winds down, and the stacked supply tables slowly recede, I see the proud faces of the 7 and 10 year old daughters of the Nogales Club President. They often help us prepare. This year they brought their own toys to give to the children in line. The girls realize the importance of helping others in their community. The importance of ‘service above self”.

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In three hours over 3000 people have been through the lines. A few bags of groceries, some blankets, and coats are all that remain at the end of the day. The Bomberos pack them up and take them to the families who live along the dump.


My Rotary colleagues and I are all exhausted but happy. We go through ceremonies to thank all those organizations who contributed, to receive official greetings, and then to share food. Very quickly the day ends, we disperse to return to own countries, our ‘normal’ lives.

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For me, I will take a day to reflect; on the day, the experience, the people of Nogales. I will turn it over in my mind. What can be done differently? What can be done better? What should we stop doing to focus on other things? More importantly, how can we raise more in the coming year to help even more people?

But those are questions for tomorrow. Tonight I will sit down with my American friends and enjoy the feeling of knowing that 3000 families will go to bed tonight with a full stomach, and a warm blanket. We are committed to continue to return to address the needs of the family and those Bomberos working so hard to keep them safe.

Cheryl Ewing
Kitchener, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener

Day #2 Update from Agua Prieta

I am writing at the end of a wonderful and productive day in Agua Prieta. We just returned from a visit to an after school program called ‘Sembradores de Esperanza’ which translates as “sowing seeds of hope’ or “sowers of hope”. I discovered the program two trips ago (as time is measured in Mexico trips), when we had planned to visit orphanages where other wealthy donors had already been and given plenty of gifts. I did not want to go where there was plenty, but rather where there was greater need. I asked the President of the Rotary Club to take me where nobody else was going, where nobody else had helped. I didn’t want to waste a penny of the funds entrusted to my care, determined to make a difference with every dollar and every visit. He took me to Sembradores de Esperanza and thus the new aspect of this project began.

The Agua Prieta portion of the “Shoebox & Beyond” project uses backpacks (‘muchillos’ in Spanish) in lieu of shoeboxes, thus the children are able to make use of the bags every day. We include school supplies in the backpacks along with some warm clothing and simple toiletries. I budget a very limited amount to buying backpacks and contents because I believe that the muchillos are simply the key to the door of the community.

We travel throughout the community, giving the backpacks to children in desperate need, using this key to the door as we prearrange visits to schools and orphanages. In this way we are granted a very private peek into how things are run and where the greatest needs are. As a result of this insider view, we can assess where we will spend the bulk of our funds; focusing our investment on sustainable, long-term projects.

In my travels I meet with teachers, mentors, principles, parents, press, and more to gain a fuller understanding of the inner-workings of the community. The Rotary Club here supports and encourages that we do that. They are proud and very involved. It is truly an honour to travel through the city with them as they have a powerful network of business associates and friends who are all just like family members. They epitomise all that is good about Rotary in the bonds they have created throughout Agua Prieta.

This morning I was at a school called La Paloma that the government built near the Colonias (the slum areas to put it bluntly). It had no electricity; hence no light, no heat, nor computers. In addition to the backpacks, we take school supplies to the teachers there to try to support their work in this tough environment. The supplies are simple; things that we Canadians take for granted: sticky notes, markers, construction paper, and more. The children sit in freezing cold classrooms with their coats on. I don’t know how they can learn in the bitter cold.

We gave almost 100 backpacks to the gracious and happy students. After, we meet with the principal and teachers and wander through the cold school building. The teachers assure us that our modest investments are stretched as far as possible, and that the education these children are receiving is making a difference. For them. For their families. For their futures.

Rotary donations have supported a few projects at this school, and today I see another one taking shape.

At La Paloma, the teachers have started a reading club. Their efforts are greatly hampered by the fact that they have no library. They dream of a small library; a few shelves in a small room is all they hope for. With books and some simple carpentry, the whole project would cost no more than $1000. Not at all like a library that our Canadian children enjoy. Far simpler but unreachable in this environment. I record the details and hope that we can make another dream come true here, especially when literacy is at the heart of this dream.

We travel in the late afternoon to Sembradores de Esperanza for a much anticipated visit.  This part of the Colonias is the most poor and the most heartbreaking area I have ever seen. We are deep into the poverty-ridden Colonias. It is all I can do to keep from weeping. I remind myself that we are here to bring help and not tears.

I take pictures and make notes. These I will take back to project donors  to show them where their dollars can have the most impact, providing opportunities to change the direction of young peoples’ lives.

The children who are able to attend this after-school program at Sembradores de Esperanza have to be collaborative and show a strong desire to get through school. They come from homes fragmented with drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, abandonment, neglect and more. Although they are elementary school age (6 -12yrs) they have seen the worst of the worst in life. For the program, there is a waiting list. Only 45 kids get to attend Sembradores de Esperanza under the careful care of Angelica the tiny teacher whom all the kids unequivocally respect.

The students go to school all day and then afterwards they come to Sembradores de Esperanza for mentoring and other help. The objective is to remove them from the negative influences that await them at home for as large a part of their day as possible. The kids go from being dropouts to A and B students. To remain in the program for the designated two or three years, they have to be respectful and work hard. I see the evidence of that clearly in the reports from Angelica and from the director. Most importantly I see it in the faces of the children who look at the visiting Rotarians as heroes.

Last year we provided two computers and a printer. We had no idea at that time the seed that we ourselves would sow with that gift. But, after we bought the computers, other sponsors heard of Rotary’s contribution, and collectively bought ten more. WOW! Sowing seeds of hope indeed.

The first time I went to Sembradores I saw that the only water available to the children was from a dirty hose on the ground and I was outraged that it was all they had. Now, thanks to D7080 they have a water tank of their own, filled with clean water and attached to a beautiful  water fountain. They have sports equipment and computers thanks to Rotary, and most importantly they have encouragement as they see that some people who don’t even know them care about their future.

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The statistics and reports from the director bear out the results that we have brought to this little program. But there is so much more that we can do for these kids to make sure the service remains and meets their needs.

This year I am delighted to be accompanied by Janet Lucas from the Rotary Club of Burlington Lakeshore and her husband John, who are firsthand witnesses to the magic happening because of our Rotary relationship and involvement in this community.  They  have been infected with the desire to do more and even bigger things thanks to D7080 and the Rotary Club of Agua Prieta.

Patricia Dimeck
Waterloo, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Agua Prieta Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener

Day #3 Update from Nogales

Today was the day we had set aside for distributing tickets redeemable for blankets, gifts or food. Working closely with the Bomberos (Firefighters) and members of the Monster Team Nogales (“guys with jeeps”), teams of three (Canadians and Americans) travelled to various areas of the city determined to be in need. We ensured that at least one member of each team could speak both Spanish and English.

Word spread quickly as each team arrived in the various neighbourhoods. People lined up in the hope of securing the tickets needed to receive the much-needed items. Volunteers issued various tickets, depending on the type of items the families are most in need of. The tickets would be redeemable the following day during the highly-coordinated distribution from 9 am until noon.
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Almost 3000 tickets are distributed in a single day; redeemable for everything from food to gifts, coats to blankets. As with Christmas gift programs in Canada, teens typically are the ones with the fewest age appropriate gifts, so the volunteers supplement by giving them blankets. The youth here don’t seem to mind or feel slighted, they are happy to have been thought of at all.


It is heartening to hear the people respond to our question “how many niños” with a proud honesty despite their poverty. They reply “six” and the next would tell us that they have none. They are unbelievably patient and grateful.

As we distribute the tickets we are forced to make hard decisions. I hate this part of the project. It is so difficult to try to measure poverty. How do you tell someone barely keeping their head above water that they are not “poor enough” to receive a ticket? These decisions are painful. Soul crushing. You have be strong enough to say “no”, when everything in you is screaming “please take two”. But you must to ensure there is enough for the families and children in the next colonia (neighbourhood). And the colonia after that. And after that.

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My team was dispatched to the dump. I was there last year and was appalled to see that the number of ‘homes’ in this area has doubled. It is heartbreaking. My job this time was to take photos, which allows me to distance myself to some extent. For this I am grateful. Witnessing the conditions they must live in—must raise their children in—is incredibly difficult for all of us. Even the Bomberos. They have no electricity and any clean water must be bought with the meager amount they earn scavenging through the dumpsite for anything that can be sold. It is a living; though barely.

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It takes us only three hours to complete our mission and return to the club. On the way, we stop so the Bomberos can push a stalled vehicle to a downgrade where they can try to restart their engine. All of the Bomberos vehicles are equipped for such ‘emergencies’.

After lunch, most of the team returns to the hotel for some down time. A few of us go on to see the Number One Fire House. It’s the oldest fire house in Nogales. I visited the House my first trip to Nogales. I was even given the privilege of sliding down the pole!

The Bomberos are very proud of the work they are doing and they should be. Last summer they offered a summer camp program, and 400 children got to go to camp! Many for the first time ever. There is no cost to participate (the families couldn’t have spared the money if they did) and if the photos they showed me were any indication, the kids had a fabulous time!

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The Bomberos showed me the compressor equipment that had been donated to them. The compressor allows them to refill their air tanks more quickly and efficiently than in the past. This is important with a community with an official population of 250,000 people to protect. The Fire House has only 30 professional firefighters and another 115 volunteers. They receive their training in Arizona, then return to their country to train other firefighters, firefighting teams, and volunteers. They are proud to be known as the best firefighting team in their State. They continue to perfect their skills, and hope one day to be the best in in the country.


I am proud of my own club’s efforts to help this team where we can, so they can meet this goal. Jim Aslin of the Rincon Club in Tucson has also taken on the Bomberos as a project helping to equip an ambulance that our club sent down last year. This year we were able to present three jackets from the Waterloo Fire Department. As always, they are grateful. Every little bit helps, they say.

By eight we have returned to the clubhouse to finish the few final preparations, share some food and laughter with friends old and new, and prepare ourselves before the final day. Some of us stayed for hours afterwards, having fun. Wonderful to see both kids and adults line dancing or performing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  The youngest son of Past President Apolitico could make a living with his screams!


Later, President Fito and I talk about the challenges his club faces. He tells me that all Mexican border towns and cities struggle with the same problem. People from southern Mexico and South America flocking to the border expecting to find the “American Dream”.

They dream of getting across the border—no matter the reality. Because they have no plans to stay in Mexico, they don’t set down roots. They do what they can to survive until the day they can begin their dream. But their dream is impossible.

What this will do to generations is frightening to me. The Mexico that I know well is not the beautiful tourist cities with their warm beaches and abundance of food and drink. It is the reality of a northern border cities, which can be harsh, cold, and unforgiving. My friends here are sad that this is the Mexico I know.

Yet, even in their adversity, there is an incredible beauty in the people of Nogales. Their culture, their faith, and their incredible gratefulness. It’s what keeps drawing me back.

Cheryl Ewing
Kitchener, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener