Rotarians Help 6,000 People Affected by Super Storm Sandy

Even though Hurricane Sandy no longer dominates the news, it’s good to know that Rotary Project Partner, ShelterBox is still working with Rotarians to provide shelter, warmth and dignity to those in their greatest hour of need.

ShelterBox is deploying aid in the Northeast of the U.S. in addition to having teams in Haiti and Cuba.  ShelterBox has distributed more than a thousand blankets in the Far Rockaways and Long Island as well as parts of northern NJ.  The team worked with Rotary District 7500, located in the middle of the hurricane hit region, to deliver aid along the eastern seaboard of NJ.  Thankfully, tented shelter was not needed since sufficient temporary housing and shelters were available. The ShelterBox team met with officials to see what was missing from aid that they were receiving from charities around the nation and it was determined that more blankets, hygiene kits, hats mittens and scarves and other items were still needed.

In total, 6,000 people will receive assistance from ShelterBox in the Northeast U.S.

As a Rotary Project Partner, part of ShelterBox’s immediate response to Super Storm Sandy was to reach out to the most-impacted districts to check on Rotarians and learn what their communities were experiencing in the wake of the disaster. With the “service above self” ethos very much in their hearts, Rotarians have joined forces with ShelterBox to provide shelter, warmth and dignity to vulnerable families in the Northeast United States.

“For many years, District 7500 has always responded generously to disasters around the world in the form of donations to ShelterBox.  I am very pleased to see that in our own time of need, ShelterBox responded immediately.  To make a call to ShelterBox on Tuesday and to have a team on the ground on Thursday with a significant order placed by Friday is amazing.  On behalf of all of the Rotarians in the affected regions of Eastern New Jersey of Districts 7500 and 7640, we cannot thank ShelterBox enough!” –Rotary District 7500 Governor Joan Vas 2012-2013

Many thanks to ALL the Rotary clubs and districts who make contributions to ShelterBox to ensure there are supplies and trained volunteers available to immediately respond to the needs of families impacted by disaster. In addition to its efforts in the U.S., ShelterBox is actively distributing aid to Syrian refugees in Iraq, flooding survivors in Uganda and Nigeria, families made homeless by an earthquake in Guatemala and those impacted by Hurricane Sandy in Haiti. To learn more ShelterBox’s current activity around the world, please click here-

Posted by Susan Ireland, Fairfax Rotary Club Public Relations Chair


As New Storm Approaches Gulf Coast, Remembering Katrina

Devastation in New Orleans from hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“My name is Nicolas Strayham. I finally have been able to track down the people who brought the ShelterBoxes to my house. We had a distribution site in the driveway of our yard and a total of 20 of your boxes were dropped off there. You cannot understand how thankful we (my community) were for these boxes. We had 20 boxes, including 40 tents. These tents made temporary homes for 40 families and friends. Since the first day we received the tents my goal was to find out who the tents came from and personally thank them. It was because of people like you that allowed us to satisfy our need for safety and shelter.”

Nicholas lived in Biloxi in Mississippi, one of the states in Southeast USA that Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005.

The hurricane force winds and a massive storm surge slammed into Biloxi and other towns along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, causing scenes of destruction and flooding.

Listed as the fifth largest hurricane to hit the United States, Katrina began as a very low pressure weather system that strengthened into a hurricane as it approached the Florida coast on the evening of August 25.


One hundred thousand homes were left without power as it crossed southern Florida and it strengthened further as it veered inland to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, devastating areas along a 200 kilometer stretch of coastline that claimed 1,836 lives and left thousands homeless.

The storm passed straight through the city of New Orleans, carrying a sustained wind speed of around 200 kilometers per hour, destroying many lighter buildings and causing extensive damage to others.
ShelterBox sent boxes the next day with freight company DHL, which arrived in Houston on September 1, to be distributed to the affected areas by local Rotarians, who had already been supporting their local communities by providing food, clothing and shelter.

Even though homes were flattened, the majority of survivors were desperate to stay on their own property.

Biloxi Rotary Club member Tracy DeDeaux volunteered during the tragedy and coordinated the local ShelterBox effort. Her home in Diamondhead, Mississippi, had piles of rubble outside the front of it and a blue tarp was used as a roof:

“I hardly know anyone who has a house to live in, so I guess I’m lucky.”

‘All we’ve got’

One of the people she assisted was Marion Bedlington. She helped him carry a disaster relief tent and other lifesaving supplies to his truck that was full of belongings. His dog, Chew-Chew, was also happily waiting for him.

“This is all we’ve got–my wife and me,” said Marion. “I found him (Chew-Chew) a week after, running around the neighborhood. I couldn’t believe it.

“I never cry, but I almost did. The tents came through when nobody else did.”

ShelterBox’s response to Hurricane Katrina was the first time the international disaster relief charity had deployed to the United States and could not have been possible without the help from local Rotary clubs and generous gifts from donors worldwide.

Thank you

With your incredible support, ShelterBox was able to send a total of 1,320 boxes, each packed with two tents and other equipment to help shelter those whose lives had been torn apart in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Today, seven years after the disaster, there has been focus on the movement of Tropical Storm Isaac as it nears the same Gulf Coast with direct aim at New Orleans.

With its top sustained winds currently at about 113 kilometers per hour, the National Hurricane Center in Miami has predicted that Isaac would intensify into a Category 2 hurricane, bringing winds of approximately 170 kilometers per hour by early Wednesday around the time it’s expected to make landfall.

Hurricane warnings extend across 450 kilometers, from Louisiana’s Morgan City to the Florida-Alabama state line.

Isaac not as powerful as Katrina

Isaac is not as powerful as Katrina, which landed as a Category 3 storm and New Orleans’ updated levees are equipped to handle stronger storms than Isaac, according to FEMA Officials. The breaking of levees led to the devastating flooding in the area after Katrina.

The storm has already ripped through Haiti and the Dominican Republic, displacing thousands, but didn’t cause too much damage as it blew past the Florida Keys. There has been isolated flooding and heavy rains over much of Florida, with around 80,000 homes left without power.

A ShelterBox Response Team arrived in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Monday to assess the need for emergency shelter following Tropical Storm Isaac.

Posted by Susan Ireland, Fairfax Rotary PR Director

Polio Eradication – Are We There Yet?

Did you know Rotary’s top philanthropic goal is to eradicate polio worldwide?  Since 1985, Rotary members have contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries. Rotary has also been a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since 1988, along with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a key supporter of the initiative.  Rotarians have worked to match a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rotary and its partners have reduced polio cases by 99 percent worldwide, from 350,000 cases in 1988 to less than 2,000 in 2008!  An estimated five million children have been spared disability, and over 250,000 deaths averted.  However, polio continues to threatens children in parts of Africa and South Asia, and remains endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Rotary club members worldwide are cautiously celebrating a major milestone in the global effort to eradicate polio. India, until recently an epicenter of the wild poliovirus, has now gone for more than one year without recording a new case of the disease. India’s last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal State in January 2011. The country recorded 42 cases in 2010, and 741 in 2009.

The world must remain committed in order to achieve a polio-free world. The threat of polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere.  If we don’t stay the course, experts say polio could rebound to 10 million cases in the next 40 years, negating the world’s $6 billion global investment.

Rotary is committed to fighting polio until every child is safe from this devastating disease.  In addition to Rotary’s fundraising efforts, hundreds of Rotary members travel at their own expense every year to join fellow Rotarians in polio-affected countries to immunize children against polio during national campaigns.

Posted by:  Dr. Laura Hills, President Rotary Club of Fairfax

2012 Marks 25th Anniversary for Women in Rotary

On May 4, 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary clubs may not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Rotary issued a policy statement that any Rotary club in the United States can admit qualified women into membership. The Rotary Club of Marin Sunrise, California (formerly Larkspur Landing), was chartered on May 28 of that year. It becomes the first club after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to have women as charter members. Sylvia Whitlock, of the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, became the first female Rotary club president.

The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.  The vote followed the decades-long efforts of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow for the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several close votes at previous Council meetings.

The response to the decision was overwhelming: By 1990, the number of female Rotarians had skyrocketed to over 20,000.

Women have served in leadership positions as high as the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees.  In June 2011, there were 197,044 female Rotarians worldwide, and 91 women were district governors that year.

2012 marks the 25th anniversary for women in Rotary. Currently, women account for 15% of Rotary international membership. In North America, 22% of club membership is female.

Posted by Dr. Laura Hills, President Rotary Club of Fairfax

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.

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.

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

Why I Joined Rotary

My name is Marcus O’Malley and I recently joined the Fairfax Rotary Club. I grew up in Warrenton, Virginia and I am the sixth of seven children from an Irish family. I went to James Madison University and before graduating, entered a Microsoft competition. Four Computer Science students flew out to Redmond, Washington and won the national competition. This led us to decide to create a business called Immerge Technologies, which is still in existence today. During my time at the company I accepted Christ and it changed my life. I desired to become community focused and help others; this escalated when I heard Reverend Desmond Tutu speak of a need in South Africa for adults to come to volunteer time to work with kids in the community.  The work involved helping those desolated by AIDS to have mentors, be encouraged, and assisted in growing up. I was later nominated and selected to be part of a GSE team. However, upon praying about it I thought that I wouldn’t be able to impact the community in the way that I wanted to via the GSE group and regretfully declined the position.

In September 2008 I sold everything and moved to Cape Town, South Africa where I spent a year doing missions work. I worked with youth in the community from starting a Bible study with kids, to playing soccer and just hanging out and learning about the community. We  went on mission trips to rougher areas of South Africa to try to help and minister. We raised money to buy food, toys/games, learning tools, equipment and more to help folks that were starting after school programs, working with the homeless or under-served, orphans and other great programs. I used my skills as a designer to help with business cards, fliers, websites and marketing concepts for local entrepreneurs. Some days we made a bunch of hot dogs and drove around handing them out to the hundreds and thousands of homeless people in the area. It was an incredible journey and then I returned in September 2009 to be with my family and start a new business doing web development and marketing. I moved to Fairfax in January 2010 and reached out to the local Rotary club in which Irby Hollands invited me to and then Dr. Laura Hills encouraged me and shared about the passion of the group to do bigger and greater things domestically and abroad. I was invited to join up shortly thereafter and am really excited to be a part of Rotary moving forward.

 Posted by Marcus O’Malley, member of The Fairfax Rotary Club