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  • Writer's pictureRay Sanford

My First Rotary Meeting

Irvine Rotarians building a house in a day.
Irvine Rotarians building a house in a day.

It was only two years after 9/11 and the news headlines were still an unending dirge amplifying the world's problems and extinguishing hope. I yearned to make a tangible difference, but the challenges seemed too vast for one person to impact.

On a whim, I accepted and invitation to attend Irvine Rotary Club's meeting, seeking a spark to illuminate the darkness. Upon entering, warm greetings filled the room as members laughed over shared stories. One member, Rick Topping, discovered we had both served in the Marines around the same time, bonding us instantly.

Club president Richard Milo radiated resolute conviction delivering remarks about Rotary's mission to promote peace and provide humanitarian service worldwide. He depicted Rotarians employing their diverse skills to address pressing issues together, transcending divides through collaboration.

Members stood to share uplifting stories. A doctor recalled an immunization trip eradicating polio from hundreds of children in an impoverished village in India where he had once worked. A young woman described a project with Corazón building a house in Mexico in a single day, her voice breaking while detailing a family receiving keys to their first safe shelter.

Their uplifting accounts kindled a dormant ember within me. This was exactly what I sought – a group transforming empathy into pragmatic solutions. Ordinary individuals driven by extraordinary vision.

Departing, I felt enveloped by friendship and purpose. Rotary extended an appeal at once simple and profound – help us build a better future, community by community.

I knew this was where I belonged – alongside hopeful dreamers and empathetic doers. My cynicism washed away, replaced by clarity of mission. I was ready to contribute my time and talents to create light where once loomed darkness.

That was 20 years ago this week. Joining was one of the best, and most life-affirming decisions I ever made.


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