Self-Interest Rightly Understood: The Rotary



The Business Monthly The Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, had a unique analysis of America.

And the Rotary underscores, even today, the generosity and the indirect, intangible rewards of American associations.

The following article was originally published this year by The Business Monthly.

The Rotary: Making a Difference

By Jack Yoest

The teacher’s lounge in Belle Grove Elementary School needed work, lots of work, but no one really saw the need. After all, only teachers frequent the lounge.

But the Glen Burnie, Maryland, Rotary Club stepped in with the time, talent and treasure of its members and refurbished the rest area for the educators. The Rotarians spent a weekend gutting and then rebuilding the room. They saw this as the perfect project — make a difference toward improving education, with no one really noticing except the teachers and the students.

Patrick Perry, Glen Burnie Rotary president, said, “Our club intends to undertake a similar project this year for [another school]. Please don’t publicize — this will be a surprise for the teachers.”

Rotary is known as an international organization of business and professional leaders. But what is less well known are the good works of the local clubs. District Governor Pat Kasuda, who shepherds the 69 area Rotary clubs, said, “We only see a need and want to give back to the community.”

And give back they do. Rotarians mentor students, maintain local parks, sponsor children’s Christmas parties, reach out to kids in Kenya — and are ridding the world of polio. Rotary club members measure their livelihood and charitable works against the “4-Way Test”:

Of the things we think, say, or do:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Head Start Help

Bob Guth lives by this test. Guth is president of the Rotary Ellicott City Sunrise Club and leads a number of youth-related community service programs. Some years ago, the Sunrise Club learned that the benefits from Head Start programs, unless reinforced, were lost in the summer months before school. Guth’s club took on a summer enrichment project for Head Start eligible children. This is a labor of love lasting six weeks for 120 kids. “The program for at-risk children,” said Guth, “is continuing education — one sure way to get ready for kindergarten.”

The Rotarians not only teach swimming, colors and counting to the students, but enrich the young lives with cultural opportunities: the zoo, a dinner theater, a horse farm and golf. About a dozen volunteers from Guth’s club work directly on this project and raise $15,000 to $20,000 each year to cover the direct costs.

Rotary clubs are more than work; they are also a “fellowship” that the members truly enjoy. “We like each other’s company,” said Guth.

And Maryland likes the results. The state, after observing the Rotary efforts, now provides some funding for the Head Start summer school initiative with $70,000 contributed through the local Community Action Council.

The Definition of Service

Rotary clubs nurture partnerships as well as children. Rotary District 7620, comprising clubs from central Maryland and the District of Columbia, has partnered with The Peterson Companies of Fairfax, Va. Together, the organizations have provided dictionaries to local third graders. Last year, 45,000 dictionaries were awarded to students.

Perry said, “After we deliver the dictionaries to each child, we teach dictionary usage and talk a little about Rotary.” This seems to be about the only self-promotion the Rotary does.

Rotarians are “humble — not given to seek out praise,” said Kasuda. But some praise might be in order. The annual August crab feast nets the Baltimore Washington Medical Center $15,000. The October Golf Tourney raises $20,000 for special projects. The Thanksgiving Turkey Chase 10K race hosted by the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rotary raised over $100,000 for YMCA youth services. The “Strut your Mutts” fundraiser cleared $30,000 for the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. And, if you saw fireworks in Westminster on the 4th of July, thank a Rotarian. The local club picked up the cost of the skyrocketing pyrotechnics.

From the Lobster Festival in LaPlata to decorating the Glen Burnie Town Center to mentoring students through the Career Counseling Program, Rotary raises money and makes things happen. And there is an added benefit. Kasuda reported that, “Fundraisers have a trickle-down effect — the events give back to the community” by supporting local businesses and vendors who supply the happenings.

Not Just Locally

Part of the mission of Rotary International is to “… build goodwill and peace in the world.” Guth praises Tim Gregory, “a dynamic guy,” who is the founder of Kenya Connect (Rotarians are forever highlighting the achievements of others). “A fantastic program … kids to kids … a real opportunity for Kenya,” said Guth. The program promotes cross-cultural exchange and improves international relationships through personal relationships.

The funding of Kenya Connect also demonstrates the humility of Rotarians. The clubs seem to avoid high profile, made-for-TV capital equipment projects. Rather, Rotary raises and donates funds to the operating expenses of Kenya Connect, to keep the lights on in the building and toner in the copier — the mundane, everyday expenses most big donors shun.

But Rotarians do think big. Governor-Elect Rich Carson, who is next in line for District leadership, has a passion for international outreach. He points to the work that Rotary International has done toward the eradication of polio. The Wall Street Journal reported that, “Rotary money and its example … were joined by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. … Rotary’s effort [is] the most successful private health-care initiative ever.” When the world is free of polio, possibly as soon as by 2008, Rotary will have donated $600 million to this effort.

Rotary is able to make international relations work because of close-knit Rotarian relationships. Kasuda said, “Business and community leaders [should] know that serving in Rotary leads to worldwide opportunities.” Good works can be started and managed “with businessmen and women throughout the world knowing you have Rotary in common. If you are looking for business relationships or just for information about another country, your best resources are Rotarians.”

Carson observed, “It has taken me many years to appreciate the total scope of the Rotary and I am sure there is more to learn.”

The justice systems in many states plan jail cell construction for the prison population about 10 years in advance. How do they determine the head count?

From third grade test scores. The lower the scores, the higher the prison head count will be down the road. Elementary school test scores correlate and act as a predictor of the number of jails society must build. The Rotary Dictionary Project is a not-so-modest step to helping reduce those numbers.

As long as Rotarians are making a difference in our communities, we may very well need fewer prisons. And Rotary International will make the world a better place.


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