Thursday, February 18, 2010

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The Rotary Clubs of Wellesley and Weston
Service Above Self

Robert Bachrach, renowned photographer at Bachrach Studios, spoke at a Weston and Wayland Rotary Club meeting. His company has been photographing famous people for five generations.

On any weekday and in any season in over thirty thousand cities and towns around the world – including Wellesley and Weston – you’ll find Rotarians breaking bread together. The Community Center off Route 9 hosts Wellesley Rotarians every Tuesday night. Elsewhere, Weston Rotarians (whose ranks include members from Wayland) meet at the Weston Golf Club on Thursday evenings.

Members from both clubs, many who have maintained their memberships for decades, gather to share a meal (the food is always good), chat about ongoing service projects, and share in the spirit of the organization. Rotary is non-sectarian, benevolent, and energized by the spirit of giving.

“Every week we get together, put our feet under the same table, and try to figure out how to help our community,” says Tory DeFazio, whose roots in Wellesley Rotary go back to his dad, who joined the club just after its founding at the end of World War II.

“We get 25 or 30 substantial requests for aid from local programs every year,” he adds. “To meet a host of needs, we run the Pancake Breakfast, which is our signature fundraising event. Little League helps with that in the spring, but we also manage everything from vocational fairs for Babson and Mass Bay students to getting the Clock Tower illuminated. It’s just a wonderful way to be part of this town.”

Wellesley Rotarians take a break from their work at the Wellesley Food Pantry. l to r: Hank Petilli, Fred Wright, Mass Bay Rotaract Club member James Hilton, and Paul Lam

Dedicated to the community
DeFazio is dedicated to Rotary, and to the Wellesley community. But just what is it that has kept him and dozens of other local citizens and business people active in the organization week after week for years?

New members like Peter Civitanga (current Wellesley president), Eric Torkornoo, Anna Marie Costa, Charu Narain, and Tom DeRiemer, all of whom live and/or work in Wellesley, give the club new ideas and energy. More senior club members like John Staniunus, Fred Gamon (who books the club’s stellar lineup of after-dinner speakers), and local builder Dick Carls contribute bench depth and wisdom.

Carls in particular notes the power of the Rotarian motto (“Service Above Self”) and the organization’s “Four-Way Test” (more on that later) for the dynamism they lend to individual members.

But are these folks secretly disposed to wearing funny hats and partying all night long? Hardly. Rotarians are members of a worldwide, non-profit organization whose reach and positive impact often surprises those unfamiliar with their work.

Back in December of last year (and every holiday season for years before that) Weston Rotarians were busy delivering gifts to particularly needy families or ringing the bell for donations. Throughout the year they support a program for bringing environmentally-friendly cook stoves to villages in Central American countries.

Wellesley Rotary makes sure a pioneering doctor in the Peruvian Andes has the resources he needs to identify and treat an epidemic of ringworm among the young – and for both clubs, that’s just the beginning.

Wellesley Rotarians Fred Garmon (left) and Peter Civitenga (right) with Boston Globe financial columnist Steve Syre.

Planning to do good
The budding enthusiasms of spring and global reach notwithstanding, Wellesley and Weston Rotarians work to maintain service projects throughout the year. One way or the other, they’re always planning to do something good at their weekly meetings.

As individuals and an organization, Rotarians tend to understatement, if only because the conditions they encounter in their efforts are often sobering.

Yet their presence, if little seen, is widely felt. Wellesley Rotary, for instance, has been involved in clean water projects in Africa for years. They also give scholarships to deserving Wellesley High School seniors and are now helping to support Wellesley At Home, an initiative directed at making it easier for seniors to get to medical appointments. Other initiatives include the donation of computers and support for learning programs for local kids of modest means.

The Wellesley and Weston organizations, like Rotary clubs everywhere, tend to draw their members from the professions, the local business community, and municipal government. With over 45 Rotary clubs and upwards of 1,700 members throughout the region west of Boston, Rotarians are a peripatetic lot.

Those unobtrusive gold and blue signs you’ve seen along Routes 9 and 20 (with the little yellow sprocket in the middle) announce the time and place of regular Rotary meetings. Regional and hemispheric conferences align clubs and districts to Rotary International’s efforts to meet global challenges like polio and malaria.

Rotary clubs from around the world work every day to deliver solutions to clean water from funding localized “personalized water filters” to larger townwide projects.

Amazing things
From modest beginnings in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century, Rotary has gone on to do amazing things, including helping to found the United Nations in 1948. To this day, Rotary International is the only non-governmental organization belonging to the UN. There it plays an advisory role while partnering with various UN- related organizations on field projects.

On its own and in association with other non-profits, Rotary International – the parent of all local clubs – supports health clinics and educational and peace initiatives. All benefit also from Rotary Foundation participation, often through International Matching Grant programs, which pair local clubs like those in Wellesley and Weston with Rotarians in far-flung places.

Polio Plus, a joint undertaking of Rotary, the World Health Organization, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the latter has donated hundreds of millions to Rotary in the last half decade, much on a matching grant basis), has virtually eliminated the scourge of polio through a spectacularly successful global immunization program.

Weston and Wayland Rotarians at their annual “Polio Plus Awareness Day.”

Shelter Box, another Rotary initiative, has deployed over 80,000 survival kits to disaster areas from the Gulf Coast to the Far East. Rotaplast brings surgical teams to the Philippines, Africa, and South America to repair cleft lips and pallets, a miracle for afflicted children in impoverished areas.

And Rotary’s Gift of Life program brings children from lesser developed countries suffering from congenital heart conditions to the Boston area for life-saving surgery at Children’s Hospital.

Naturally, local Rotary families host the young patients and their moms. And just as naturally, as in all Rotary directly funded programs, there is no cost to recipients.

Like all Rotary clubs, Wellesley and Weston Rotarians also focus their efforts close to home, as anyone who attends the annual Wellesley Rotary-Little League Pancake Breakfast knows. Young players sell tickets, Rotarians cook and manage the event, and proceeds are split down the middle between the two organizations. Talk about a grand slam!

Funds raised at the Weston and Wayland Rotary Clam Bake and Auction benefitted the Parmenter Home Health and Hospice Unit in Wayland.

Up the road in Weston, the local Rotary club will run its annual Antique Car Show in September. Old touring cars, hotrods, and luxury models bring thousands to the town common. With money raised through such events, Weston Rotarians turn a generous hand to those in need, like a group of recovering alcoholics, down-on-their luck tradesmen, and others I discovered one hot summer evening in the basement of a church in a nearby community.

A world away
Scuffed tile floors, buzzing fluorescent lights, and a lack of air conditioning create a slight air of melancholy as the last of those who have come for a Rotary supplied supper leave the hall. Many move in a slow motion trance, in part induced by ample helpings of pasta and salad, but more by hard times and humid weather.

“We’ve been feeding folks here for 16 years,” says Jonathan White, a Weston Rotarian, who is seated at a large, bare table with Karen Williams, a club member who is a real estate agent and former psychiatric social worker. With the help of Williams’ daughter Ashley, a junior at Weston High, they have just finished feeding the small crowd a hearty supper, lovingly prepared (as always) by Weston Rotarian Bob Mosher and his wife Cindy.

Thomson Safaris Tanzania safari specialist Andrew Doherty spoke to the Wellesley Rotary. This safari program contributes to charitable works in Tanzania.

“This is how I keep my life in balance,” says Williams.

On another evening, the upstairs dining room at the Weston Golf Club is abuzz with chatter as Rotary president Rich DeVito calls the meeting to order. Plans for the antique car show, a combination car meet and concors d’elegance (a kind of beauty contest for automobiles) to be held next fall, are under discussion.

The show is an established tradition, yet it is still astonishing to see the enthusiasm with which committee assignments and all the other details of a major fundraising event are considered. The room bubbles with good humor and energy. Weston Rotary clearly benefits from a stellar membership roster.

Ward Carter is the “grand old man” of the club, setting an example over the years of “Service Above Self” for senior members like Jonathan White, Blake Munson, and Bruce Lee.

Local realtors Elaine Sweeney and Rita Shulz (Elaine is president elect), along with members like Cynthia Bryant ensure the club stays on track when president Rich DeVito is unable to preside at meetings. Ed Gaw, an investment manager, keeps a wise eye on club proceedings, while the previously mentioned Bob Mosher ensures community outreach stays steady.

Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaugnessy speaking at a recent Wellesley Rotary Club meeting.

Four Way Test
All of which brings us back to Dick Carls, the Wellesley residential developer and Rotarian who with a wry sense of humor and an understated smile keeps an eye on Rotary values at the local level. “You ask me about Rotary and what it’s all about and I’d say it’s our Four Way Test,” he says.

“It’s not that we’re a big deal,” he adds. “We’re just trying to do something to make a positive difference. So we tend to think along lines that go like this,” he says. “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Simple enough, right? But in the hearts and minds of a million-plus Rotarians around the world and two intrepid clubs here in Wellesley and Weston, it surely promotes the notion of service above self, no matter what the season.

Rotarians meet weekly throughout the year in Wellesley and Weston. They are open and always pleased to greet new friends, which Dick Carls would surely agree is another big piece of what Rotary is all about.

Peter Golden, a Rotarian, views the American experience through the lens of local history.



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