Lydia Black may not seem like your typical Rotarian.
The petite, young CEO/executive director for the Alliance for the Arts is typically found in jeans, T-shirts, and with her long mane of curls secured in a bouncy ponytail. Still in her 30s, she’s not the buttoned-up, brief case carrying, conservative, business type — but she is a loyal, proud, active member of the Rotary Club of Fort Myers and has been for six years and counting.
Ms. Black has not only served on the board of directors at her Rotary Club, she is recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow, an honor awarded for her contributions to Rotary.
Ms. Black is all about giving back to Rotary because the organization gave so much to her. When she was a high school student in Rhode Island, Ms. Black was awarded a Rotary Leadership Scholarship, which helped make it possible for her to complete her undergraduate degree at Eastern University in Pennsylvania.
“Rotary provided me the support to dream bigger,” says Ms. Black. “Because of my scholarship, it was important that I volunteered on campus and in the community, kept up a high GPA, and worked hard to achieve my goals. I credit Rotary for helping me get through college and now I want to invest in the next generation — for me, that’s what Rotary is all about.”
Rotary is an international service organization with clubs all over the world and was founded by attorney Paul Harris in Chicago in 1905 when he and a few businessmen friends met for fellowship and community conversation weekly, rotating the meetings between each other’s offices, hence the name “rotary” club. As the Chicago club grew and members moved to other areas of the country, so did Rotary Clubs. Eventually, clubs were formed in Europe and all over the world. With the motto, “Service Above Self,” Rotary can be whatever members need it to be.
“Giving back is the heart of Rotary,” she says. “For many newer, younger members there are benefits to making connections with a really wide variety of people involved in different industries — there are judges, media professionals, small business owners, builders and so many more. Making these connections, and working together to help our community, is invaluable.”
The philosophy of Rotary was adopted in 1942 and is known as the Four-Way Test in respect to thinking, saying, or doing:
• Is it the truth?
• Is it fair to all concerned?
• Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
• Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
“The Four-Way Test,” says Ms. Black, “can apply not only to Rotary, but to life.”
Ms. Black’s Rotary Club of Fort Myers is informally known as the “Downtown Rotary.” Others in Lee County include Rotary Club of Fort Myers South, Rotary Club of Fort Myers-Sunrise, Rotary Club of Sanibel-Captiva, Rotary Club of Bonita Springs, Bonita Springs Rotary Noon, and clubs in North Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Estero.
Sandra Hemstead is the Rotary district governor of the Southwest Florida area (District 6960) and presides over 51 clubs from Marco Island to Bradenton. The Educator in the Medical Area says that while every member of Rotary is different, so is every club.
Sandra’s focus is connecting rotary around the world and improving health and access to potable water.
Ryan Benson, a 35-year old homebuilder, has been with the Naples Gulf Shore Sunset Rotary Club for five years and says that age-wise, it’s the youngest in the district.
But that’s just one of many fundraisers geared towards the younger set hosted by Naples Gulf Shore Sunset Rotary. Last year, there was the October wine-themed event, “Hallowine” and the New Orleans style Mardis Gras Masks party last February.
“What I like about Rotary is that it makes service to the community easy, organized and fun,” says Mr. Benson.
Tom Briers, a Bonita Springs CPA, has been involved with Rotary clubs for the past 30 years and says that different generations of Rotarians tend to have different objectives for joining, but it all comes down to one common goal, and that’s community service.
“Millennials might enjoy the networking aspect more,” he said, “while we older guys like fellowship and enjoying a meal together. Rotary is what you make of it — but most importantly, the ethics and standards are high.”
Mr. Briers was the treasurer of the Bonita Springs club for five years. He also served as secretary and is the immediate past president. He attributes the strong growth of Rotary in Bonita Springs — there is a second club, Bonita Springs Rotary Noon — to the fast growth of south Lee County in general. The club raises up to $65,000 a year, which goes back into the community for projects like Habitat For Humanity and scholarships for students at Estero High School.
Like many organizations that are over a century old, Rotary began as an all-male club, but as many women reached higher positions in their professions, Rotary became less patriarchal, and in 1989 the Rotary Council on Legislation officially voted to allow women into all Rotary Clubs worldwide. Yet, there are still Rotary Clubs that remain all male, including the Harbor Heights Peace River Rotary in Charlotte County.
Michael Riley, the community liaison for Charlotte County Public Schools has been a charter member for 15 years.
“Our club was formed by guys and that’s just the way it’s stayed,” Mr. Riley said. “There are other Rotary Clubs in the area with women members, but we have around 100 members and they’re all men.”
The Harbor Heights Peace River Rotary is a strong and active club. “A lot of our members are younger,” Mr. Riley said, “which is unusual for this area. When they come on board, they have to realize that it’s a major commitment. You have to be at every weekly meeting and you have to put service above self.”
Mr. Riley’s club hosts a golf tournament each year, and a popular annual gambling themed event called The Charity Games. The club’s community support includes student scholarships and hosting a safe, fun Project Grad Night party for Charlotte High School.
In Palm Beach County, the largest Rotary Club is the West Palm Beach Rotary Club, which meets weekly at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
Mark Wade, the 45-year old owner of Seacrest Services, a property management company, has been a member of the West Palm Beach Rotary Club for six years and said his club stays very busy, “We welcomed 12 new members in just the past few months.”
Mr. Wade said the club has healthy mix of younger professionals and retirees, and that it’s about “60 percent men and 40 percent women.” This year, he’s co-chairing the annual golf tournament on Oct. 14, which helps to support many of the club’s community service projects including scholarships for Palm Beach County students and grants to elementary, middle schools and high schools.
“What I like most about Rotary is that when you’re in business, you focus so much on your work — maybe too much,” Mr. Wade said. “Rotary introduces you to the needs of your community and gives you the opportunity to put your focus on giving back.”
See full article in Florida Weekly.