By Jeris Burns Gaston
If you told me twelve years ago upon finishing my Rotary Ambassadorial Program year in Dublin, Ireland, that this was just the start of an adventure, I would have been hard pressed to believe you. The program itself was such a unique and enriching experience that improving on this worldview changing year seemed impossible. However, as I enter my thirteenth year as a member of the Rotary family, I now realize that being an alumnus is just the beginning.
While in Ireland I was a member of the incredible Dublin Central Rotary Club; a close-knit group I remain connected with to this day. Unfortunately, there was not quite the same type of club experience available for a recent graduate student when I returned to Birmingham, Alabama, USA. After working for a few years and establishing myself as a young professional, a new opportunity arose. To my surprise, the opportunity was not as a Rotarian but as a Rotaractor.
Spirit of Rotary alive and well
Although I wasn’t familiar with this program, I quickly realized that the Rotary spirit was alive and well within Rotaract, especially the new Rotaract Club of Birmingham, Alabama, USA. In the now fourteen years since its founding, this club has gone on to not only enhance my Rotary experience, but also to change the conversation about how Rotaract members can truly partner with Rotary worldwide.
Last year, I was honored to serve as our club’s president. Simply put, the Rotaract Club of Birmingham is a unique establishment to lead. At 300 members, our organization is one of the largest community-based clubs in the world. We have our own non-profit foundation run by our members which funds two internationally award-winning signature service projects. Accolades aside, we are constantly challenging each other to improve on leadership development, service and membership engagement.
During my year as president, I often referenced my days as an Ambassadorial Scholar. While traveling around Ireland speaking to Rotary clubs, I was introduced to different service projects and Rotary customs. I realized that Rotaractors have an incredible amount to learn from Rotarians and vice versa. I was determined to show my club the wide net that Rotary International casts, and did so by challenging the group to “Think Global and Act Local.” I hoped to impress upon the club members the value of broadening their worldviews by learning more about RI Programs, attending conventions and starting the conversation about International Service opportunities.
Rotary Scholar lens
My time as a Rotary Scholar provided me the lens by which to challenge our club to do more within the Rotary framework, while also cementing strong ties with our sponsor Rotary Club and other clubs around town. I am now a member of our sponsor club, The Rotary Club of Birmingham, so my Rotary adventure continues. Ultimately, I want all our members to become Rotarians, to continue within the Rotary family, and to elevate their professional and personal development.
I’ve seen firsthand the outcome and the personal growth that occurs when you put Service Above Self. Without the Rotary ambassadorial experience as a starting block, my Rotary story would have ended before it began. Being an alumnus kickstarts a lifetime of learning, engaging, and bringing about positive change in your community and worldwide through the Rotary family.
Jeris Gaston and Michael Stone will be leading a breakout session Professional Development: Success stories from Birmingham, Alabama on Friday, 22 June, during the Rotaract preconvention in Toronto. Learn more about the Rotaract Preconvention