By William Pritchard, Rotary Club of La Crosse-After Hours, Wisconsin, USA
In La Crosse, Wisconsin, and neighboring communities, we have a high number of Rotary members and clubs for our relatively small population. There are eight clubs and 500 members for a population of less than 80,000. We are well-known in our community for the things we do, from planting trees and gardens, to building parks and playgrounds. But what truly makes Rotary special in the area is our ability and interest to work together – to keep the “walls” between clubs very low so it is easy to “step over” and work together on projects.
Some attribute this unique quality to the downtown club, which opened its arms to all the other area clubs to make its Foundation an area wide collaboration with representation from all clubs. Others point to community leadership that has developed projects like Kids Coulee, iFeed, and Rotary Lights that are larger than any single club. But whatever the secret sauce, Rotary clubs around La Crosse collaborate and work together in a Rotary Community kind of way.
One of the ingredients is surely our method of bringing all our new members together for a shared education on the basics of Rotary. Each club maintains its own orientation to address traditions and functions. But every-other-month, all the new members in the eight-club area join together for a breakfast to learn Rotary 101. Our Specialized Training for Action in Rotary (STAR) program is a six-course curriculum that allows members to step in at any point during the year and pick it up quickly.
- In July, all new members learn about the Rotary Year and theme, Rotary.org, a history of Rotary in the La Crosse region, and service opportunities.
- In September, participants dive into club service, the structure of Rotary clubs, and a look at districts.
- In November, they learn about The Rotary Foundation, our local foundation, annual giving, and legacy giving.
- In January, we review the service projects in our community and how they can get involved.
- March’s class teaches then about Youth Exchange, Friendship Exchange, Vocational Training Teams, and area International Service projects.
- And in May we focus on vocational service, RYLA, and other area initiatives.
New members attend at no cost, their clubs are only charged the cost of the breakfast. At the end of the cycle, STAR program graduates are asked to give their classification talk at their home club and join a minimum of two committees with their home club. They are also offered the opportunity to transfer to a different area club if they desire.
Opting to transfer
A surprising number of our program graduates take advantage of this opportunity. They may have been asked to join a particular club by a friend. But in learning about all the other clubs and what they are doing, they find a different club’s focus speaks more directly to their passions. This single provision has significantly helped us collectively keep new members.
La Crosse Area Rotary clubs have created a special place where the clubs work collectively – tearing down the walls that separate – to make our communities a better place.