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My Favorite Toolkit

I love doing Rotary service projects. Especially international ones. Ones that make a difference you can see (pun intended). When a grandmother gets a set of glasses and can see her grandkids, the smile light up her face. What a payoff!

Dr. Fred Stellhorn giving an eye exam during one of the Dental & Vision clinics.
Dr. Fred Stellhorn of Manteca Rotary giving an eye exam during one of the Dental & Vision clinics.

I also love international projects because of the "bang for the buck." Such as the one we're doing this weekend in Ensenada, BC, Mexico. We'll be taking over an elementary school and in one glorious day, we'll fix all the kids teeth and give vision exams (and free glasses) to all who show up. And the volunteers pay their own way and work for tacos!

Kurt Hempe of SJC Rotary, working for tacos.

One of the most enjoyable things I experience, is listening to someone's passion and then introducing them to someone I know who can help. For that I turn to my main toolkit – what used to be called a Rolodex, now my phone's Contacts app and a Rotary app named "Club Locator."

When we wanted to do the first Dental project in Baja California 18 years ago, I was able to find the five Rotary clubs in Ensenada by using Rotary's printed Club and District Directory. It was listed by Rotary District and then alphabetically by club name. Each club's listing (in tiny, tiny type, showed the club President and Secretary and their contact information. At the time it was miraculous. I could connect to any Rotary club in the entire world!

With a simple phone call, I contacted Lupita Creo in the Ensenada Calafia Rotary Club. Her club was relatively new and was made up of almost all women – an ideal fit for providing free dental care for children. Dr Tozzer and I made a one-day trip to meet with their club leaders and we worked out the basic plan. The model is still the same and we're on our 36th visit.

Families line up for free dental and vision care near Maneadero, BC, Mexico
Families line up for free dental and vision care near Maneadero, BC, Mexico

Their club would work with the local school board and city to find the school most in need. Our club would bring the dental (and now vision) equipment and professionals. We'd do all the work in a single day! We'd socialize with their club and return home on Sunday.

Rotary's "toolkit" lies in our member diversity – or "classification" system. When I was first introduced to Rotary in the early '80s, I thought, like many others, that the classification system was designed as an anti-compete system; to keep members from fighting over clients, customers and resources.

After taking a 25 year hiatus from Rotary and moving to Orange County, I was re-introduced to Rotary and discovered what I thought was a limitation, was actually a strength. We had experts in many different fields. And as the club grew, we kept adding more. Now, in San Juan Capistrano Rotary, we have 80+ members with a huge body of knowledge about a wide range of subjects. And most importantly, all ready to pitch in and help make things happen.

Kurt knows the ins-and-outs of how to deploy a parachute on Mars. John knows first-hand about working in the Peace Corps. Howard and Larry know about the Navy. Cindy, Mark, and Charlie B. can guide you through various areas of finance. Charlie H. is a retired airlines pilot. And the list goes on… it's often quicker and more comprehensive than Google because when you ask a question you not only get an answer but an offer to help.

But wait, there's more! Because each of our members has their own network of friends, acquaintances and experts. And other clubs in our District have even more. The larger the project, the more connections and introductions I have fun making and the more I learn. Now my list includes not only most of the Rotarians I've met over the past two decades, but also directories from Zone Conferences and from Rotary International. What used to be a printed club and district directory is now an App called "Club Locator" on my phone.

Oakley was one of the largest sponsors of "Snowball Express"

When our District created the original "Snowball Express" to recognize the sacrifice of military families who'd lost a loved one, it demonstrated how powerful the network was. A friend described it as a "solvable nightmare." But any time we'd have an issue or a problem, someone would say "I know how to solve that" and we'd continue.

Ticketing 900+ airline passengers from cities all over the U.S., and even from Europe, Australia and Japan? No problem! Picking up families from five different airports and getting them to the proper hotel? No problem! Getting donated hotel rooms for all the families? No problem! Arranging for them to be bussed to the different events? No problem! Getting Disneyland to donate free passes? That took a bit more wrangling, but in the end, no problem! Thousands of volunteers, many thousands of sub-projects, millions of dollars of donations in kind, lots of communication. No problem! The magic of Rotary.

Having a prosthetic leg is life-changing. It allows the patient to regain employment and provide for their family.

On a earlier project building prosthetic legs in Bolivia, we were halfway through the project when the Rotary club in La Paz disbanded. We were left with trying to continue a Global Grant project but without an in-country partner club in Bolivia. We were able to solve the problem quickly by working out a solution between our club, the prosthetic clinic and our Rotary Foundation grant coordinator.

Rotary started with five friends networking. It's grown to one of the largest such networks in the world…all dedicated to Service Above Self. It's a miracle and getting stronger and better each day.


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