Q: Tim, you have served as a district governor for Rotary. LeAnn, you have held multiple positions at the district and regional levels. You've both visited many Rotary clubs in the district. What has that entailed and what have you learned about Rotary clubs in the region?
Tim: While visiting the 68 Rotary clubs, we had the opportunity to hear about all the activities they have in their communities and around the world. You name it, and Rotary clubs in Southern Oregon are involved in it.
LeAnn: Our district is 70,000 square miles from Albany south, west to the coast, east to Lakeview and south to Tulelake, Etna and Montague. There are 3,700 members in the district. Examples of Rotarians' contributions to their communities include youth reading programs, community parks, food banks, free eye clinics, student scholarships, a playground for disabled children, youth leadership programs, perinatal support, vaccinations, computer labs, veterans assistance, international student exchanges, libraries and dental clinics.
Q: Do local clubs have the latitude within Rotary to identify local projects?
LeAnn: Absolutely. An individual member identifies a need, adds their passion to the collective skills and financial resources of their Rotary club and the magic happens.
Tim: One of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about Rotary clubs, people think of Rotary as a club, but in Medford there are five clubs, and in Jackson County there are 10 clubs. Each club operates autonomously. There are bylaws and guidelines that Rotary requires clubs to operate under, but essentially they operate autonomously. Many Rotary clubs focus on the youth in the community, from basic needs to scholarships.
Q: Are there priorities or projects that Rotarians get involved in nationally or internationally?
Tim: Rotary International has one corporate program, and that is the global eradication of polio. There are only a few endemic countries left — Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rotary and its global partners have reduced the number of polio cases worldwide in 30 years from 350,000 per year to just 3 so far this year. We are so very close that we can’t stop now. The danger is that polio, like any other disease, is just a plane ride away. And while we have been polio-free in this country for many years, it just takes one person to carry the polio virus back to this country and start it all over again.
Q: How do service clubs (Lions, Kiwanis, Shriners) like Rotary help build their communities?
LeAnn: The Rotary structure provides me the opportunity to focus my desire to give back to my community. And the same with Kiwanians and Lions, it has the structure to do that. It is the power of one, many times over through an organization.
Tim: Let me give an example. Caleb LaPlante is a Rotarian in Grants Pass. He has been involved with an organization that is fighting human trafficking and sexual slavery. After learning more about his project, I asked Caleb to speak at our district conference, which covers two-thirds of the state of Oregon. So he and a young woman, Rebecca Binder, who is a trafficking survivor, came and spoke at our district conference. That got other Rotarians and other clubs interested in the issue. Through Rotary, Rebecca and her organization have put on a traveling exhibit called “More than a Survivor” that is up for an Emmy Award. This exhibit has been supported by grants from local Rogue Valley Rotary Clubs. Caleb will take the “More Than a Survivor” exhibit as one of the showcased programs at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta this year. This is possible because of the structure of Rotary and the power that one person has to make a difference.
Q: What motivates you to give of your time? Why do you do it?
LeAnn: A turning point for me was back when I was a young manager at the hospital. I noticed a positive difference in one of my staff. I asked her what made a difference. She said, “You believed in me.” That was a starting point that changed the trajectory of my life. I became truly focused on wanting to help people be the best they could be. Obviously, when I was working, it was focused on my staff and their development and the enrichment of what they were doing for other people. As a retiree, I needed something to continue that focus. And for us it has been the opportunities provided to us by Rotary.
Tim: Through Rotary, ordinary people like us can accomplish extraordinary things. I have seen people’s lives changed through something as simple as a used pair of glasses that enabled someone to go back to work and support their family or become a productive member of their family by sewing or being able to read. I’ve seen children fed on the weekends when they would have had no food, and clean water systems that save children’s lives. I know the time I put into Rotary makes a difference in people’s lives. I’ve seen the difference Rotary clubs throughout our area and throughout the world make in improving and saving lives.
Q: What are the pressing needs you see in our region and how can service organizations be involved in helping?
LeAnn: I think of three specific needs that are on the radar of Rotary clubs. Tim already mentioned sex trafficking. In addition to that, five clubs are working along with Junior Service League of Jackson County on food scarcity in our elementary schools. We know that 1 in 5 children do not have enough to eat. We are distributing food for the weekends at four elementary schools in Phoenix-Talent and Medford schools and will expand the number of schools involved next fall. The third need is a mainstay for Rotary … providing the opportunity for higher education by funding scholarships.
Tim: Much of the need in our valley, like the rest of the world, is socioeconomic. Rotary is a nonpolitical and nonreligious organization. We don’t get caught up in pointing fingers, we just see the need and work to resolve it. It is often the children who get caught in our political battles, so we focus many of our resources toward helping the youth in our communities. There are a wide variety of youth programs in our area — from college scholarships, leadership camps, youth service clubs to feeding the hungry.
Q: What kind of challenges do service clubs such as Rotary face? What does the future look like?
Tim: The biggest challenge of all service clubs at this point is the changing demographics and how people view community service. A lot of people, especially under 40, are very busy. I think attracting younger members is the biggest challenge.
LeAnn: Declining membership and funding. You need resources in order to provide the services we do. For example, our club took 15 years to help develop Blue Heron Park. That takes resources, not only people showing up with a shovel, but it also takes financial resources for materials to build a pavilion.
Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking about joining a service club?
Tim: When someone is looking for community service, they have to ask themselves, “What is in it for me?” Basically we are all involved because it makes us feel good or we love the connections we make. When someone goes out looking for a way to give back to the community, they have to find the way that works best for them. Rotary works best for us because of the structure, because of the connections. We’ve made lifelong friends, and we’ve made connections that allow us to give back in ways that we feel good about.
LeAnn: Opportunities include networking, access to speakers on a vast range of topics, leadership training and mentoring, acquiring skills to apply in all aspects of your life. We just got back from a training in Seattle where we had 500 new club presidents from Alaska to Northern California with us. One young woman said, “This has changed my life.” I wish we could share that with more people; getting mentored, getting coached, getting opportunities to grow your skills. You can grow as a person.
Q: What have you learned through your involvement with Rotary?
Tim: I’ve learned that one person can make a difference. I’ve learned that Rotary provides the opportunity for growth, both personally and professionally, in a variety of leadership opportunities. I’ve learned that if I’m willing to put in some of my time, I’ll be rewarded 100 times over.
LeAnn: When Tim was district governor, we traveled for six months visiting 68 different clubs. A lot of the smaller communities have only one club. The services those Rotarians provide are so important to that community. When a need comes up, Rotary is the first place the people go, and Rotarians are so quiet about it. We really haven’t done a good job of promoting ourselves. I would love to see a list of the parks, the food banks, the scholarships, the kid’s programs, etc., that Rotarians have accomplished, not even mentioning the money that has been raised as gifts.
Q: What is it about this place we call home that you love?
Tim: I’ve pretty much called it home my entire life. I grew up here, so I think the Rogue Valley has a lot to offer. Moderate climate, lots of outdoor activities. We have a fairly strong cultural program, Shakespeare in Ashland, Britt in Jacksonville and theaters in Medford. I have a lifetime of friends here. If I need help with almost anything, I know someone who can help me.
LeAnn: What brought me here from Portland was a job offer, and what is keeping me here is the bond, my strong connection with the community. We could live wherever we wanted to, but having a purposeful life in our community is my anchor. I see Rotary as part of my mental health program, it keeps me engaged and purposeful and alive.
— Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.