Keeping it all in the family

By Alice C. Chen
The Rotarian

September 2007

Judith Lorigan, a past assistant district governor, has been recruiting new Rotary club members for years without even knowing it.   "I've spent a lot of life as a Rotarian," says Lorigan, of the Rotary Club of Bethel Park, Pa., USA. She adds that her family is always asking her, "What's going on?" The answer usually leads to some of her three children or seven grandchildren getting involved in service. That includes Lorigan's 14-year-old granddaughter Carly Zalenski, who has organized drives to send supplies and toys to Vietnam and helped raise $50,000 to build a school.

"It's incredible that Carly's been able to do this, to stay with it," says Lorigan, a 65-year-old retired bank manager who has been a Rotarian since 1988. "When she started this, I thought, This is going to be difficult."

Lorigan's family, along with others who can list Rotary affiliations through the years, serves as a reminder during New Generations Month that when seeking out potential club members, we shouldn't forget those who are right under our noses: our own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other relatives.

It only makes sense. After watching - and perhaps helping - their Rotarian family members dish out spaghetti in soup kitchens, give dictionaries to third graders, and raise money to drill wells in Africa, these potential recruits have come to personally understand the importance of volunteering and its ability to put smiles on the faces of both givers and receivers.

So just how can you get younger family members involved? It's quite simple, really.

"Invite them to the things you do," Lorigan says. Introduce them to Interact, Rotary's service program for people ages 14-18, and Rotaract, for those ages 18-30.

"My family always supported any function my Rotary club had," she adds. "They'd always come, be a part of it, donate, and buy raffle tickets."

It also helps to bring back photos. After distributing the items Carly helped provide to children in Vietnam, "I came back with pictures of the supplies and toys given to the kids," Lorigan recalls. "It was an incredible experience. They were thrilled. They had reconditioned Barbies. These little girls in Vietnam were smiling from ear to ear. Some had never had a toy."

Because of her influence, Lorigan's son-in-law Fred Zalenski decided to join the Rotary Club of Canton, Ohio, about two hours away from Lorigan's home.

The Rotary service bug spread to his daughter, Carly, who was in third grade when she initiated a project at her school to collect items for children to send overseas. She amassed 10 suitcases of materials, which her grandmother and other Rotarians took to Vietnam in 2002 for a school they'd helped build.

But Carly, who became a Paul Harris Fellow in April, didn't stop there. In 2006, she launched an effort to raise $50,000 to cover half the cost of constructing another school in Vietnam. (The other half was to come from the Vietnam Children's Fund, whose cochair is Ohio-born Terry Anderson, a journalist who was held hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, from 1985 to 1991.) Carly began speaking to Rotary clubs about the project, and by June had rounded up enough money to meet her goal. To help raise funds, Anderson, who has met with Carly, spoke at a March benefit dinner in Canton.

"It's exciting," says Carly, who wants to become a Rotarian some day. "It's been such a surreal experience. Everything's been happening so fast."

Carly is starting high school this fall and plans to join an Interact club. She hopes to eventually become a Rotary Youth Exchange student, Rotaractor, and Group Study Exchange participant.

Vital signs

Fostering such fresh, energetic recruits is crucial to keeping clubs alive, according to Niki Zohrab, the young vice president of the Rotary Club of Chicago Lakeview, Ill., USA. Without new members, she points out, "Rotary is an organization that will die."

Like many other Rotarians, Zohrab was introduced to Rotary through her father, Gain. However, she's unusual because of her age: 33. (Rotary clubs tend not to have many members under age 40; a 2006 survey reveals that 89 percent of Rotarians are 40 or older.)

A transplanted native of New Zealand, Zohrab was an adolescent when her father joined the Rotary Club of St. Johns in Auckland. He served for more than 10 years, eventually becoming its 1998-99 president. She occasionally accompanied him to meetings and helped assemble food baskets for needy families during Christmas. At age 16, she spoke to the club about a tall ship voyage she took.

After moving to Chicago, Zohrab wanted to meet people, make business connections, and help the community. Because of her exposure to Rotary, she decided to join a club in 2005.

"It's important to have younger members so we're staying with the changing trends," she says. "If someone's retired, they're not so much in touch with people of my own age group. We've got to keep it fresh with new, young blood all the time."

New worldview

"Young people bring a different perspective and energy," says Stephanie Ursini, president of the provisional Rotary Club of Denver Northwest, Sky High, Colo., USA.

She points out that once they join Rotary, young members recruit others to keep the organization vibrant.

President of a public relations and marketing firm, Ursini, 48, chairs the public relations and RI Convention promotion committees for District 5450. She received a 2005-06 Citation of Public Image Achievement from then RI President Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar.

Perhaps even more impressive is her record of perfect meeting attendance since joining Rotary in August 1998. And many times, she doesn't arrive alone. Ursini's 18-year-old daughter, Vanessa, typically attends about 10 meetings a year with her mother.

Vanessa admits that at the beginning, she went "because they had breakfast." Then she started listening at the meetings and heard how Rotarians want to help eradicate polio, she says. "I helped deliver food baskets and attended fundraisers and charity events. It made me feel good. I made lots of friends."

At the age of 14, Vanessa went to Italy for six weeks as a Youth Exchange student. The next year, she traveled to Peru, where she and her Rotarian host family handed out Christmas presents to disadvantaged children. Two months later, her mom visited and delivered about $3,500 worth of supplies for a free medical clinic.

"I love learning about new cultures and people," says Vanessa, adding that she "became so thankful for what I have because I could see how people with nothing could still put a smile on every day."

Ursini says that besides offering "a world of opportunity" not available through education alone, Rotary has helped her daughter avoid taking things for granted: "She doesn't let the water run in the sink to brush her teeth. She doesn't take hourlong showers. When she spends money, she considers what else it could've bought. It's amazing, her perspective. It definitely changed her life."

And the experience has instilled a desire to join Rotary. "I will keep the legacy going," says Vanessa, who plans to become a Rotaractor in college and apply for a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship to study abroad.

Lasting legacy

Vanessa is continuing a legacy by following in her mother's footsteps. Every summer throughout grade school and high school, Ursini used to accompany her grandfather Carl Powell to meetings of the Rotary Club of Delta, Colo. She doesn't remember many details except that the club members were men who wore suits, seemed to eat a lot of chicken, and held picnics in the park. One thing that stands out in Ursini's mind, though, is the friendship that sprouted within the close-knit group. When her grandfather, a Rotarian for more than 50 years, was in the hospital, club members sent cards to him and food to her grandmother. If there was a funeral or a life-changing event, the Rotarians were always providing support.

"Everyone seemed like family," she says. "We were always helping each other."

Ursini says keeping that fellowship alive is a primary reason why she became a Rotarian the year her grandfather died. "They just take care of each other. That's what made me a Rotarian."


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