Joining Together to Help a Local Homeowner in Need

Service Above Self Task Force

This past Saturday, some of us from the Fairfax Rotary Club came together to help a Fairfax City family in need of a new handicap access ramp for their home.  The old ramp was falling apart; too dangerous even under the best of circumstances.  I arrived just in time to see that work was clearly underway . . .the saws were humming, the hammers were hammering, and in general a flurry of activity was all around!  Here we were, a few local citizens, doing our part to help a neighbor in need.  While I was never known for my skills with a saw, someone handed me a paint brush and away I went to help put a fresh coat of paint on the shed – I was happy as a camper because I love to paint!

John Brice builds ramp

The experience reminded me that everyone in our 100+ member Rotary Club is not only needed but relied upon.  We’re here to make a difference, even if it’s just one small project at a time.  While I didn’t have an opportunity to actually meet the homeowners that day, I couldn’t help but wonder what the family’s lives were like.  I kept thinking that if we could complete this one project today and give that family member a safe way to enter and exit her home, imagine the positive change we will cause.

I love this year’s Rotary theme and think it kind of ties into what we did Saturday.  Reach Within to Embrace Humanity.  And as our Rotary International President, Kalyan Banerjee recently said, “However long we have been in Rotary, we must always

Walt, Laura, Susan & Verne painting the shed

strive to grow as Rotarians – to find ways to help others, and to bring about all the positive change we can.  For this, more than anything is what makes our Rotary service worthwhile.”  He’s so right.

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Do You Know Someone Who Will Change the World?

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview an outstanding young woman from right here in Fairfax, VA.   Lauren Conn is a Rotary World Peace Fellow in the process of completing her Master’s Degree at Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I have no doubt she will change the world.

First, a little background:  Rotary Peace Fellows are leaders promoting national and international cooperation, peace, and the successful resolution of conflict throughout their lives, in their careers, and through service activities.  Fellows can earn either a master’s degree in international relations, public administration, sustainable development, peace studies, conflict resolution, or a related field, or a professional development certificate in peace and conflict resolution.  Here’s a video about the Rotary Peace Fellow program – very cool and worth watching.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR3_8ZBVqK0

SI:  So Lauren, what have you enjoyed most about your time as a Rotary World Peace Fellow?  LC:  Serving as a Rotary World Peace Fellow has enabled me to accomplish several life goals: living abroad for an extended period of time in a different cultural and linguistic context, studying development from a Latin American perspective, and advancing in my career in international development.

SI:   How do you feel the program will help you and what do you hope to accomplish as a result?  LC:  I’m so pleased to report that the Rotary World Peace program has already helped me accomplish my goal of advancing in my career in the field of international development – even before graduation!  I have been offered a position with the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest source of multilateral development financing and technical assistance in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce poverty and inequality.  I am thrilled to return to the Washington area to work in their Education Division on expanding access to quality education to children and youth of the region.

SI:  Congratulations!  I’m curious, how did you hear about the program and what caused you to apply for it?  LC:  In 2006 when I was teaching in the Virginia public school system, the Fairfax Rotary Club supported my application to the Rotary Cultural scholarship program.  I first learned of the Peace Fellow program when I went through my orientation as a Rotary Scholar.  I spent three months in Quito, Ecuador in the summer of 2007 which was truly a life-changing experience that deepened my interest in education issues in the context of international development.  My mentor and friend, Verne Tuininga, and the Fairfax Rotary Club then sponsored my candidacy for the Rotary World Peace Fellowship so that I could further pursue these interests through graduate studies.  I began my Master’s program at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a member of the Class IX Peace Fellows in March of 2011 and will graduate this summer with a degree in International Relations with a concentration in Economics, Development and Cooperation.

SI:  Tell us a little about you and your background.  LC:  I am a hometown girl, born and raised in Fairfax.  In fact, I grew up in my father’s childhood home where my parents still live in Fairfax City.  I am the oldest of the three; my younger sister and brother and I are all graduates of Fairfax High School (also my father’s alma mater).  I earned a BA in Hispanic Studies (05) and a Master’s in Education (06) from one of Virginia’s great public universities, the College of William and Mary.

SI:  Anything else you’d like us to know?  LC:  I am deeply appreciative of the opportunities that Rotary has given me and deeply admire the incredible humanitarian work by the Foundation and Rotarians worldwide.  I’m very proud to be a part of the Rotary family and look forward to being a lifelong Rotarian.  In my professional life and through Rotary service I hope to provide students from our community and communities across the globe with quality educational experiences that will no doubt transform the trajectories of their lives just as mine have.  I also would like readers to know that Rotary is a networks of individuals who are deeply committed to the global fight against poverty, preventable disease and inequality, and to the idea of service above self. 

Footnote:  Upon graduation, Rotary Peace Fellows work in a variety of areas, including grassroots and local nongovernmental organizations, national governments, the military, law enforcement, and bilateral and international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, International Organization for Migration, and the Organization of American Studies.  Graduates of the Rotary Peace Centers program also benefit from the support of a worldwide network of more than 500 alumni committed to building peace.  Through the Rotary Peace Centers program and The Rotary Foundation, Rotarians increase their effectiveness in promoting greater tolerance and cooperation among peoples, leading to world understanding and peace.

Posted by:  Susan Ireland, Fairfax Rotary Public Relations Chair