Here in the mountains, it can sometimes be a little too easy to forget that we are part of a community. In fact, the idea of community is precisely what many of us came here to escape — at least to some extent. You can disappear into the mountains, hideout in the corner of your favorite bar and even find an empty pool or sauna from time to time. While these brief periods of isolation are an important part of life, realizing that we are all one community is equally as important.
There are hundreds of ways to get involved in our community. We boast a very high number of nonprofit and charitable organizations here in the mountains. However, few of these organizations provide funding to their peers and offer to lend a hand on a consistent basis with actual volunteers. I’m lucky enough to be able to be an active player in several charitable organizations, but there is one in particular that has always lived up to the standard of providing support to its peers through an active volunteer network.
I recall the very first time I had to explain Rotary.
“I’m a Rotarian here in the community.”
“What the heck is a Rotarian?!”
I was standing with friends about my same age, and although all of us had lifestyles that allowed us to provide service to others, no one in the group other than myself really knew how to describe Rotary.
What is a Rotarian?
Rotarians come from all walks of life. Many are professionals, but it’s not a requirement. All of us have different world views, religious beliefs, political affiliations and goals. We have different experiences. We are old and young, working and retired, competitors and friends. This diversity is precisely what makes us a force with which to be reckoned.
We get together once a week, usually over a meal, to network with each other, but more importantly, to plan how we can make a positive impact in the communities where we live. Our meetings usually last about an hour, and we usually receive high-impact speakers from around the community to talk about issues where we might employ our resources to help.
The financial commitment from Rotarians to Rotary is typically limited to the cost of your meals and renting the space where we meet. Often, we choose to donate money and time to a variety of causes, but personally funding our causes is not mandatory. Most often, our donations are funded by our fundraisers, like the annual Vail Duck Race, which is held over Labor Day weekend.
When Paul Harris and a few friends first formed Rotary in Chicago, they circulated the meetings from office to office every week — hence the name Rotary. As their membership grew, they realized that they would have to find a set location and stick to it. Rotary quickly expanded throughout the country and the world. Now, there are more than 1 million Rotarians worldwide, and thousands upon thousands of service clubs.
What do Rotarians do?
First and foremost, we have a lot of fun. Many of us are intellectually wealthy and time poor, and as a result, we tend to enjoy getting out of the office to meet with each other. We hold social gatherings, believe in adult beverages and play in the community together.
Worldwide, Rotary is likely best known for its efforts to eradicate polio. In 1980, a Rotarian named Sergio Mulitsch di Palmenberg, an Italian, raised funds and provided logistics support to ship over 500,000 polio vaccines into the Philippines. Sergio’s project was picked up by other local clubs, and then spread across Rotary. Since 1985, Rotarians have donated and raised more than $850 million for the project and have successfully inoculated more than 2 billion children worldwide.
The Gates foundation provided two challenge grants since 2008, offering to match it if Rotarians could raise another $100 million, and a few years later, another $200 million. Rotary met the Gates Foundation match both times.
Today, wild polio still exists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. The disease has been nearly completely eliminated everywhere else. Rotarians still offer raffle prizes every week to raise funds for the complete destruction of polio.
ROTARY’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE VAIL VALLEY
On a local level, Rotarians have been key in the development of the Vail Valley. The Vail Rotary Club started the first 911 service in the valley. It started the Vail Blind Skier program. It raised nearly $100,000 to assist the Vail Valley Medical Center. It provided the original seed money for the Vail Valley Cares Thrifty Shops, which have now developed into another major local charitable organization.
Rotarians built bus shelters, helped form Eagle Valley Senior Life, provided funds for the Bright Future Foundation and assisted with volunteers and money in a number of other local initiatives.
None of the money raised by Rotarians goes to providing administration costs to the club — many of us volunteer to be administrators of various aspects of our operation. All of the funds we raise go right back to the community causes that Rotarians believe are important.
We need you
Whether you would like to come to network or lend us a hand, we need your involvement. Instead of trying to go it alone in your efforts, picture the amount of impact you can have with a group of 50-100 people who support your cause.
Thanks to the exponential financial power of Rotary, a small amount of money raised at the local level can grow to a significant amount at the international level. Local clubs work together to accomplish our goals, but we are always growing. I would like to personally invite you to breakfast with me — we’ll buy.
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender, business finance consultant and a Rotarian. The Rotary clubs of Vail, Edwards and Eagle are charitable organizations of local professionals and philanthropists from a variety of age groups and industries. To donate to the duck race, go to www.duckracevail.com or call Gochberg at 970-471-3546. To get involved in Rotary, go to www.vailrotary.com or ask a Rotarian.