By Marty Peak Helman, growth chair for District 7780 (parts of Maine and New Hampshire, USA )
A new Rotary club, New Voices, was chartered 15 June in my district with 33 new members. What makes this club unique is that the newly-minted Rotarians – who range in age from 18 to 30 – are all graduates of the district’s phenomenal Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program.
They were introduced to RYLA and Rotary youth leadership at age 15 as high school juniors, and since then, they have stayed active through the district’s RYLA Reset program for grads, RYLA workdays, and RYLA leadership opportunities. What these young people have in common is a love for what RYLA – and by extension Rotary – offers them in terms of positive youth development. But, with high school graduation looming, many of them were expecting to leave the Rotary orbit.
“We have a strong track record of getting RYLA participants into Interact, if they aren’t involved already,” Phil Giordano, executive director of RYLA in District 7780 and past president of the Rotary Club of Scarborough, Maine, told me. “Then they graduate from high school and go off to university, and we tell them to check out a local Rotaract club, or start one if there is none on campus. We lose many of them then – and more when it’s time for them to graduate college and concentrate on their careers.”
It’s a common problem throughout Rotary in North America, as RI Director Jeffry Cadorette noted to me at the chartering. “We have the greatest pipeline in the world of young people coming up through RYLA, Youth Exchange, Interact, and Rotaract. Other organizations would kill for a pipeline such as we have. But we are only now beginning to learn to capitalize on it. New Voices gives us a critical tool to do just that and turn our Rotary youth alumni into Rotarians.”
Earlier this year, it became evident to Giordano and me, as the District 7780 Growth Chair, that the changes enacted by the 2016 Council on Legislation meant that the young people could form a club of their own – a club that would focus on youth leadership and which would meet (mostly) on line, with three or four “live” events each year – events which the young people are already involved in.
Giordano reached out to his RYLA leadership team, determined solid interest in a new club, and helped them get organized. First, the young people created their own mission statement: New Voices D7780 will be a new type of Rotary Club that is accessible to people of all geographies, abilities, and ages, and is for folks who share a passion for youth leadership development and service to others; our goal is to expand the traditional model of Rotary to as many people as possible.
A new kind of club
New Voices is a whole new kind of Rotary club, focused on capturing an underserved population that happens to be already excited about Rotary, but who – because of time constraints, school commitments, and job expectations – could never commit to a weekly or biweekly mealtime meeting. In Rotary parlance, the closest existing model is a Passport Club, and certainly, the New Voices Rotarians expect to “make up” with Rotary clubs in communities where they may be studying or working in order to engage with them in service or fundraisers.
Zone leadership – most especially Director Cadorette and Director-nominee Valarie Wafer – have been extremely supportive and are firmly committed to this new concept. Cadorette brought a video recording of 2018-19 RI President Barry Rassin welcoming the club to Rotary. Cadorette has recognized that this model is infinitely scalable and can be replicated anywhere. All it takes is an existing strong Rotary youth program. Access to a database of past members going back at least several years is helpful. Additionally, a group of seasoned Rotary mentors are needed to help navigate the process, while empowering the new members to create Rotary from a blank canvas.