By Kay Fisher, a member of the Rotary Club of North Mecklenburg, North Carolina, USA
Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, I never learned how to swim, how to play the piano, or how it would feel to go to church on Sunday mornings. The opportunities were there. The new YMCA offered swim lessons, my grandparents bought me a new piano and offered to pay for lessons, and churches were close to my house. But these were all things my dad felt only “plastic people” did.
That was his word for those whose education afforded them a seemingly easy white collar life. My father had dyslexia, a condition not well understood in the 1950’s, and because of it he struggled in school. His insecurities growing up in a college town led him to drinking at an early age. As a plumber, he felt someone who didn’t get their hands dirty working was too self-absorbed on appearances and achievement to care about anything or anyone else.
When I was 13, my mother and I left him in the middle of the night. We moved to the hometown they both shared — Clemson, South Carolina, to live with my grandparents. It was a culture shock to go from suburban Atlanta to a small college town but gave me insight into my dad’s adolescence. Although I felt I was betraying him with my new facade, I decided being accepted in this new environment was more important and I wanted to join the group of kids whose parents he would have called plastic.
In high school, the most popular extracurricular club was Interact. I joined and developed a love of service. Our club was active and there was a service project almost every week. We tutored elementary students, cleaned highways, visited nursing homes and a few of us went to a battered women’s shelter. I saw these kids as friends who cared about other people and other things greater than themselves.
At the end of the year, our sponsoring club hosted the Interactors at their weekly lunch meeting. We had learned Rotarians were leaders, professionals, business owners and well respected community members. I loved Interact and wanted to learn more about this Rotary Club which had provided me opportunities to serve our community. I read aloud The Four-Way Test and learned Rotary was about Service Above Self. I met Rotarians who were welcoming and took an interest in me. They wanted to know about our club and the projects we had done. The experience forever changed the trajectory of my life and my image of leadership.
I graduated from Clemson University and now run a real estate business with my husband in Cornelius, North Carolina. I am a board member of the Rotary Club of North Mecklenburg, Davidson Lands Conservancy, and Our Town Habitat for Humanity. I am humbled by the opportunities to serve my community and am grateful to those Rotarians who created Interact. A moment of goodwill has the power to change the next generation of leaders.
Learn more about Rotary’s programs for young leaders