Empowering Leaders

San Juan Capistrano Rotary's membership is made up of leaders. It's said when you lead a group of volunteers, you learn lessons not taught in the best business school. Here are two examples of SJC Rotarian leaders who consistently go above and beyond in giving back to the San Juan community.

Cindy Russell - SJC Woman of the Year

By C. Jayden Smith


San Juan Capistrano’s finest community members and organizations were honored on Thursday night, July 14, as part of the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Installation and Awards Banquet, where the 2022-2023 Board of Directors was also installed.


Kathy Hooper had the honor of presenting the Woman of the Year award to Cindy Russell.


“There are organizations in San Juan, too many to mention, that would not be able to function without her,” Hooper said of Russell. “She loves what she does, and she takes great pride in her numerous gifts.”


Russell, a San Juan Capistrano resident who has worked for the city in numerous important roles since 1986, has long been known for her accomplishments and presence at community events.


Hooper further spoke of her friend’s kindness and consistency in getting the job done behind the scenes—qualities that helped Russell be nominated multiple times for the award in previous years.



Mike Darnold - Rotary District 5320 "Heart and Soul Award"


Thirty years ago, Mike founded District 5320's RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) and has been overseeing it ever since. That eventually led to being recognized by Rotary International in awarding their highest honor, the "Service Above Self" award.


Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) is all about Rotarians working with youth in leadership development. It is an intensive training/experiential program for up to 250 high school students in their pivotal junior year, who are chosen for their proven or potential leadership abilities. Students participate in an all-expense paid event over several days in late April each year. The camp is run by RYLA Alumni and student attendance is sponsored by Rotary Clubs from throughout District 5320. Attendance is free for qualified high school Juniors. Students are joined by talented young people from communities throughout the district. RYLA provides a memorable opportunity to learn, grow, have fun, make new friends, and gain a new and improved focus.


In further recognition of his dedication to the youth in our area, this year Mike was awarded the District 5320 "Heart and Soul Award."