Today is my birthday! Coincidentally, it's also my twin brother Bob's birthday. But the big difference is that while we're both celebrating 76 years on this planet, Bob is also celebrating his last. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year and last Wednesday, after chemotherapy for 12 weeks, the surgeon opened him up, discovered it had spread so extensively it was inoperable. He has between three and six months left.
All this offered me the opportunity to seriously reflect on my life and how much Rotary has been a major part. I joined Rotary to create some new friends and to help my long time friend Dr. Charles "Chuck" Tozzer. I had met Chuck at a personal development seminar in the early '80s. I volunteered to help him with his mission to provide free dental care for kids in Mexico. It started small...a couple of volunteers helping Chuck help others.
In the past 31 years, Chuck's non-profit "Dental Care for Children" has run 324 clinics in the United States, Mexico and Haiti, providing $13 million in free services to more than 31,000 patients.
His introduction to Irvine Rotary was doing a community clinic one day a year out of his office. Volunteering to help was where I met members of Irvine Rotary and thought "wouldn't it be cool if they helped in Mexico?" Of course, to bring that off, I'd have to join Rotary again. I'd been a member of Claremont Rotary in the early '80s but dropped out after moving to Orange County and starting a family.
But I remembered the power of Rotary! It only takes one Rotarian to have an idea and with the support of fellow club members it grows. After joining Irvine Rotary, we contacted members of the Rotary Club of Ensenada Calafia and after starting with a single clinic in 2004, have continued twice a year for the past 18 years. Thirty-five clinics that have helped more than 3,000 kids and provided more than $1.4 million in free services.
Working with other clubs expands our reach and with the support of Rotary International anything is possible. With a matching grant early on, we purchased portable dental operatories from Rota-Dent, a project of a Rotary Club in Oregon. That was followed by portable patient chairs, and then a Sprinter van that carries enough equipment and supplies to set up 12 dental stations. Nowadays, District grants help fund the continuing effort.
Then Cisca Stellhorn contacted her Rotarian brother Fred, an optometrist in Northern California who had done vision clinics in Honduras. He quickly came on board and now the clinics offer free dental care for the kids, but also free eye exams and glasses to the kids and their parents and grandparents.
There's something that all Rotary club members have in common: We take action. As community volunteers, we reach out to neighbors in need. We build, support, and organize. We save lives. We work locally and globally. The next Ensenada clinic is October 21-23 and anyone is welcome to help.
Rotary has changed my life! It's connected me with people around the world to be part of something bigger. It's also added meaning and purpose! And friendships with people I would never have met if I hadn't joined.
Here's a toast to Bob. He's kept his Sanford sense of humor. When I asked him what I could do for him just prior to the surgery, his response was "Take my place?" We both laughed at that because over the years, from high school on, we would occasionally swap places just to confuse everyone.
Here's to Bob's courage, grace and humor.