Rose Parade float to tell the world our story

Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 3.43.29 PM

The motto for the 2014-15 Rotary Year is “Light Up Rotary.” That is a reference to the global effort to raise public awareness of Rotary and its many services.

In addition to whatever we can do on a daily basis locally, Rotarians from the U.S. and Canada have for decades supported a Rotary float in the iconic Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, CA.

This coming January 1, we will have a Rose Parade float for the 36th consecutive year. The theme this time around will be “Changing Lives Through Clean Water.” The design as shown above gives you an idea of what you’ll be seeing. You can get more details on the project website and on its Facebook page.


‘There are many messages competing for attention today — more than ever before. Too many … It’s no longer enough to passively assume people will notice our good works on their own. Sure, some will, but many won’t. We need to get their attention first.’
Daniel Thomas
Float Committee chair


The float typically receives 60 to 90 seconds of TV coverage to a viewing audience of millions. Commentators work from a fact sheet prepared with the support of the RI Public Relations Department describing the good work Rotary performs in local communities in the U.S. and around the world.

While the hands-on work to create a float is done by volunteers, it takes money to purchase machinery and materials  to create such a work of art that will help focus public attention on Rotary.

This promotion receives no financial support from Rotary International; it is funded entirely by Rotarians and friends of Rotarians.

You can help make it a reality once more by making a contribution in any amount. Simply make your check payable to “Rotary Rose Parade Float Committee” and mail it to the committee at P.O. Box 92502, Pasadena, CA 91109-2502. Or, you can donate via credit card by going online here.


Meeting of 10/23/14: Discovering America, Again

Picture 3Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush
October 16, 2014

Attending (15): Bill Dowd, Murray Forth, Pat Bailey, Jim Leyhane, Terry Brewer, Peter Brown, Debbie Brown, Len Leonidas, Debbie Rodriguez, Jim Butterworth, Carol Orvis, Shannon Romanowski, Len Leonidas, Roberto Martinez, Stewart Wagner.

Guests (2): Julius and Efi Frankel.


Program: “Discovering America, Again”


Roberto Martinez recounts his journey.

Roberto Martinez recounts his journey.

Roberto Martinez treated us to a special look at much of the United States, his recent 10,000-mile motorcycle journey from coast to coast with lots of loops and turns. He said having recently retired, he wanted to make use of his newly-freed schedule to get a new vantage point on some areas he had visited before as well as seeing new regions.

Roberto showed some of the equipment he needed to use for the trip that would take him from sweltering desserts to cold mountainous regions, from special body coverings to his high-tech helmet.

During his solo two-month journey, which he began on April 28, safety was a serious concern because he was traveling alone. He said there were only a few times he feared for his wellbeing. He used an online location service and other communications equipment to plot his course as well as to allow a select number of friends to know where he was at all times.

He spoke about the preparations, supplies and equipment he took, his six-cylinder motorcycle and trailer, and his costs for food, fuel, shelter and repairs. He also told us of the things he enjoyed (friends, scenery, sense of being “in the moment”) and those he didn’t (weather, semi-trucks, road construction).

One of the highlights of his trek was reaching Nashville, TN, en route to visiting Graceland, the mansion Elvis Presley lived in for 20 years before his death there on August 16, 1977. Roberto showed photos of the interior of the home, which has largely been maintained in period,  and the museum containing some of the costumes Elvis wore in his Las Vegas productions, as well as some of his cars and a plane he owned.

He concluded his talk with an array with photos taken during various parts of the trip — art, architecture, scenery contrasts, a ranch barn that is the oldest structure in the state of Colorado, of friends new and old, of other bikers, restaurants and food and a few of the many places he visited.


Announcements/Business


VISITORS: President Bill Dowd welcomed former member Julius Frankel and his wife, Efi, and incoming Rotarian Shannon Romanowski who will be officially inducted on November 20.

FAMILY EVENTS: This Saturday, October 25, there will be two events for seasonal fun for kids and families — The Capital Region club is sponsoring “A Safe Scare” from noon to 5 p.m. at the Troy YMCA; the District’s 2nd annual “Zombie Stumble,” a fundraiser for Gift of Life, will be held in Scotia’s Collins Park. Registration opens at 10:30 a,m, and the event begins at 11:15. Check our club website for details and links to both events.

ROTARY FOUNDATION DINNER: Reservations still are being accepted for “Broadway Lights Up Rotary,” the Foundation event to be held at Proctors in Schenectady. Cost $75 per person, Rotarians and non-Rotarians alike. Reservations may be made online.

ROTARY HOME COOKING: Event coordinator Terry Brewer said hosted dinners have been scheduled for  December, February 21, March 21 and April. Anyone wishing to attend or host an event should contact him.


Van Vorst

Van Vorst

NEXT MEETING: 6:15 p.m. Thursday, October 30. The after-dinner speaker will be Rick Van Vorst of the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Rensselaer County, courtesy of Murray Forth.


Weekend events for the kids and grandkids

Go to http://http://zombiestumble.org for all the details.

Go to http://http://zombiestumble.org for the details.


Minutes of 9/16/14: Lawsuit reform

Picture 3Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush
October 16, 2014

ATTENDING (11): Bill Dowd, Terry Brewer, April Dowd, Dick Drumm, A.J. Amato, Debbie Brown, Peter Brown, Ray Hannan, Jim Leyhane, Roberto Martinez, Stewart Wagner.

GUESTS (3): Shannon Romanowski, Tom Stebbins, Peter Slevin.


Program: Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York


Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance.

Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance.

Bill Dowd introduced Tom Stebbins, executive director of the non-profit organization Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. As its name says, the 2½-year-old organization is working to gain improvements in the lawsuit situation in the state.

Tom set the stage for his talk by citing examples of frivolous lawsuits typical of those filed on a regular basis in New York:

• A woman who wanted to sue her employer for damages she caused to her own car.

• A consumer wanted to sue the Red Bull energy drink company because it did not help him grow wings as depicted in a cartoon commercial.

• A lawsuit filed against the Buffalo Bills football team because it promised three e-mails a week to fans but sent out four one week.

• A Staten Island firefighter called to a residence to investigate a suspicious odor filed suit for an alleged injury incurred on the scene, with the monetary demand “shockingly” being precisely the limit of the homeowner’s insurance.

As Tom said, “These are not crazy people filing crazy cases; They are people profiting from the system at the expense of the rest of us.”

He noted he has been called a right-wing fanatic by Sheldon Silver, the longtime leader of the state Assembly. Silver is notorious for blocking attempts in the Legislature at lawsuit reform. Another major opponent of reform is the organization New York State Trial Lawyers, many of whose members are in the Legislature.

LawsuitsTom said New York has the highest number of lawyers per resident, and except for New Jersey spends more money on lawsuit payouts than any other state. A few other targets of his outrage: (1.) Ob/gyn doctors may be sued for malpractice until a child is 18; (2.) more than 25% of lawsuits deemed “frivolous” nevertheless result in a payout; (3.) the matter of “trespass responsibility,” which means property owners are liable for any injuries incurred on their property even if the “victim” is a burglar or otherwise uninvited person; (4.) the matter of expert witnesses in court cases does not require the “expert” evidence put forth in testimony to be scientifically justifiable, only that it be “widely accepted.” Thus, for example, a podiatrist is legally qualified to testify in an ob/gyn case because they both are doctors.

One of the worst instances of what he regards as unfair law is what is commonly called the “Scaffold Law.” It actually has nothing to do specifically with scaffolds. It is a broad term for a workplace injury law that bases lawsuit outcomes on just two things: (1.) Was the injured party on a particular property?, and (2.) who owns the property? Those two questions, Tom said, are the only ones a judge may require a jury to consider in such cases — not whether there was fault with the plaintiff, not whether the defendant has an excellent safety record … in other words, if it happens on a piece of property, the property owner automatically loses the lawsuit no matter the details of the case.

Tom closed by answering several questions, and circulated a signup sheet for the Lawsuit Reform Alliance newsletter.


BUSINESS/ANNOUNCEMENTS

NEW MEMBER: President Bill introduced Shannon Romanowski, who will be joining us as a new Rotarian. Shannon, who recently succeeded former club member Patrick Ciraulo as director of the East Greenbush YMCA, gave a brief bio and said she was looking forward to being an active member of the club.

WEBSITE POSTINGS: Bill noted that a few recent website postings may be of interest to club members: (a) A first-hand report on the continuing dangers faced by polio vaccine volunteers in Pakistan; (b) results of a Rotary Young Professionals meeting to see what young members and potential members want to get out of Rotary, and (c) a White House event honoring 10 “Rotary Women of Action” for a wide range of humanitarian efforts.

ROTARY FOUNDATION DINNER: A reminder that reservations still are being accepted for “Broadway Lights Up Rotary,” this year’s Rotary Foundation dinner event to be held on the main stage of Proctors in Schenectady which recently underwent yet another multi-million-dollar renovation. The organizers promise a nice dinner, live entertainment and no stuffy speeches. Mansion Catering from Glen Sanders will prepare the meal, which will be served onstage after a cocktail reception. Reservations are $75 each for Rotarians and non-Rotarians alike. You can make your reservations simply by going online at rotary7190.org

GREAT AMERICAN MILK DRIVE: Club members were apprised of the fact that a series of TV ads has begun for “The Great American Milk Drive,” which will be the recipient in June of donations made to our “Pocket Change” jug. (There already is more than $100 in the jug.) As noted earlier, a brief video on our website explains more about the project.

ROTARY HOME COOKING: Terry Brewer, coordinator of the program, announced that four of the home-based dinners have been spoken for. The Forths will host a sauerbraten dinner on Saturday, November 8; Pat Bailey will be hosting a “Chile Night” in February 2015; the Dowds will host “A Night In Casablanca” on Saturday, March 21, 2015, and Jim Leyhane, A.J. Amato and Roberto Martinez will host a dinner at Roberto’s house featuring a professional chef sometime in April 2015. That means we still have openings for this month and January 2015.


NEXT MEETING: 6:15 p.m. Thursday,, October 23, with Roberto Martinez presenting program on “A Visit to Graceland.


Karachi’s polio vaccinators in the crosshairs

Uzma Islam, right, says she tries to address the concerns of those who refuse the vaccine. (Al Jazeera photo: Asad Hashim)

Uzma Islam, right, says she tries to address the concerns of those in Pakistan who refuse the polio vaccine. (Al Jazeera photo: Asad Hashim)

By ASAD HASHIM
Al Jazeera

PakiChartKARACHI, PAKISTAN — Sitting at his worktable in a ramshackle hut in one of Karachi’s poorest districts, Muhammad Aslam makes clothes for a living. The 17-year-old never went to school, but has been a tailor since he was 12, making about $20 a month from sewing men’s shalwar kurtas — a traditional dress.

“I can walk on it, but it hurts. My leg is wasted away from the knee down,” he says, steadying his left knee with his hand as he leads me through the dusty, labyrinthine streets to his home.

Aslam is one of hundreds of people in Pakistan who suffer from polio, a crippling virus that attacks the body’s central nervous system.

In the last 25 years, worldwide polio cases have dropped by 99%, but the highly contagious disease, which is passed on through infected water and food contaminated with the feces of an infected person and thrives in areas with poor sanitation and incomplete vaccination efforts, remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

Of those, it is Pakistan that remains the most at risk, suffering 202 cases this as of October 7, compared to just 10 in Afghanistan and six in Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It is an alarming uptick from the 93 cases reported in total last year, and the 58 cases in 2012, as Pakistan’s efforts to control the disease appeared to finally be bearing fruit.


“This disease ruins a person’s life. The people who don’t give their children these drops, they must be idiots.”
Muhammad Aslam, 17, polio victim


While the lack of uniform hygiene standards is one reason for the disease’s spread, health workers told Al Jazeera the biggest issue in Pakistan is opposition to vaccination by parents — often with the “justification” that the vaccine is part of a conspiracy to sterilize Muslims, as advocated by the Pakistani Taliban — and subsequent attacks on polio vaccination workers.

While the majority of Pakistan’s polio cases are found in the tribal areas, where the government writ is tenuous and the Pakistani Taliban hold sway over large areas, that ideology has been exported to other parts of the country, too, creating reservoirs where the disease can spread across geographical boundaries.

Nowhere is the threat more visible than here in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and one where a complex mix of ethnic, political and religious conflicts has resulted in a city where violence itself is endemic.

“(The Taliban) have been living in some areas, engaging in criminal activities and killing polio vaccinators,” says Aziz Memon, chairman of Pakistan’s national Polio Plus committee, referring to the Karachi areas of Sohrab Goth, Baldia, Landhi, and Bin Qasim, where even police officials told Al Jazeera they often feared to tread.

“Now if you start killing people, then (vaccinators) will not be able to go there. When they are not able to go there, it will become a polio reservoir.”

The threats from Karachi-based groups allied with the Pakistani Taliban is based on a perception that the polio vaccination drops administered to children are meant to harm them as part of “a foreign conspiracy.”

This perception was only strengthened by the American CIA’s use of Dr. Shakil Afridi during a similar immunization drive in the city of Abbottabad to ascertain the location of Osama bin Laden, polio workers say, citing arguments made by those who refuse to take the vaccine.

“No one used to care about the conspiracy theories before Dr. Shakil Afridi, but now people have started caring. And they have started creating fear by killing vaccinators,” says Memon.

Since July 2012, 58 people have been killed in attacks on polio vaccination teams in Pakistan, including at least 24 health workers, according to data compiled by UNICEF. In the latest attack, on September 10, in the tribal area of Bajaur, a paramilitary soldier who was providing security to a team was killed by a group of masked gunmen.

“We take our lives in our hands when we work in these areas, the danger is very high,” says Mashook Ali, 20, a polio vaccinator who works in the Quaid-e-Azam Colony area of Karachi, “but we do this for the children so they are saved from the virus.”

Vaccination teams in Karachi are often deployed with security cover from the police. On Monday, a four-day polio vaccination drive in Karachi kicked off amid tight security. But vaccinators said police protection was often more superficial than meaningful.

“We have seen incidents where vaccinators have been fired upon, especially in Pashtun areas, where we work, so we do feel afraid,” says Saddam Hussain, 18, another vaccinator. “But we do this work for the betterment of Pakistan. We have made an oath to eliminate polio from Pakistan.”

Reports of polio cases in Karachi coincide with the areas of influence of the Taliban, according to police officials with whom Al Jazeera spoke. It is in these areas that environmental samples consistently test positive for the virus, too, according to the WHO data.

Karachi is the only Pakistani city, other than Peshawar, where such environmental tests consistently bring up positive results for polio, according to the data.

Sheraz Aslam, a coordinator for polio vaccination efforts in Karachi, says, “There are areas where you cannot go at all. If they want vaccinations there, they have to come outside their area, to us.”

Waqar Gill, 19, an area coordinator for vaccination efforts in an area under threat, said that the vaccinators are more concerned about refusals, however, than the threat of attack.

“Those who refuse say that the vaccine reduces male potency, or that it is a US conspiracy. Some even say it is made from the urine of foreigners,” said Hussain.

Gill added that there were also concerns about short-term ill-effects as a result of the vaccinations, which immunize children by giving them a very small dose of the infection. Those who refuse say that the vaccine reduces male potency, or that it is a US conspiracy. Some even say it is made from the urine of foreigners.

The lack of immunization coverage, combined with the influence of the Taliban and the constant flow of migrants into the city has turned Karachi into a reservoir for the disease, says Memon, which is of major concern in terms of worldwide polio eradication efforts.

“From (the remote province of) North Waziristan, when these terrorists went to Syria, they move with their families,” he said, pointing to the detection of a Pakistani strain of polio in Syria last year. “Until you do not achieve total elimination, the whole world is unsafe. Because the virus is just a flight away.”

While country-wide coverage rates for Pakistan’s polio immunization drives are relatively high, they remain far from perfect, with an average of 11 percent of children being missed in vaccination drives, either due to security reasons or refusals, according to the WHO. In Karachi, that number stands at 21%.

“If the community is willing to hold a dialogue with you, then you can ask them, and perhaps even convince them [to allow vaccinations],” says Azfar Ali, the country manager for PolioPlus. “But in certain areas of Karachi, like Sohrab Goth, you can’t even talk about it. Militants are like kings there.”

Aslam, the tailor, lives in an area where there are a large number of migrants from the South Waziristan tribal area, and, consequently, a large number of refusals.

“I feel like if I had gotten the drops, then today I would be able to walk, I’d be able to play. I feel like I am less than these other kids,” he says.

“This disease ruins a person’s life. The people who don’t give their children these drops, they must be idiots.”


What young professionals want from Rotary

Rotary members who attended the Young Professionals Summit in Chicago.

Rotary members who attended the Young Professionals Summit in Chicago.

By Chris Davidson
Rotary Club of Newport News, VA

I attended the first-ever Rotary Young Professionals Summit recently held in Chicago, which gathered 30 Rotarians under the age of 40 to discuss how Rotary can better attract and engage young professionals.

The summit was a huge success and thoroughly captured the essence of what Millennials and members of Generation Y are looking for: Mentorship, friendship, opportunities, and fun.

Joining Rotary as a 32-year-old young professional was a life-changing event. I knew I wanted to develop my leadership skills and was looking for ways to meet influential members of my community.

Once I was exposed to Rotary, I realized the best way to develop relationships with successful people was to work alongside them in the service of others. One year after joining the Rotary Club of Newport News, I traveled to Zambia as part of a grant to build footbridges in remote “limited access” communities.

Rotary offers so much to young people who have the desire to help others, make connections, and learn servant leadership in a world that desperately needs more of that.

The Young Professionals Summit took place in an unconventional meeting space in downtown Chicago, furnished with coffeehouse-style seating and optimized for creative thought. For two days, we engaged in a variety of brainstorming exercises, interactive games, and small-group activities, concluding each with a facilitated discussion. Ideas were documented live on large white boards by a professional sketch artist.

Common themes that emerged included:

• Young professionals are not opposed to joining a club with older members, but they are seeking clubs with a broader range of members that reflect many different categories of diversity.

• Millennials and members of Generation Y want to do significant acts of service that make a real difference in the lives of others.

• Young professionals are appreciative of the business and mentorship opportunities they experience through Rotary. However, they do not feel these benefits, and others, are being marketed effectively to their generation.
The younger crowd is looking for a fun, flexible experience with Rotary and prefers to avoid stuffy traditions, rituals, and internal politics.

As one of my new friends, Adam Barth from North Carolina, said, “Rotary should be a verb, not a noun.”


Rotary Women of Action honored at White House

Tina Tchen, an assistant to President  Obama and chief of staff to Michelle Obama, thanks the Rotary honorees for their humanitarian work. (Photo: Alyce Henson)

Tina Tchen, an assistant to President Obama and chief of staff to Michelle Obama, thanks the Rotary honorees for their humanitarian work. (Rotary Photo: Alyce Henson)

From Rotary International News Service

WASHINGTON, DC — Senior Rotary leaders gathered Tuesday at the White House to honor 10 women for their service projects, an event attended by several members of the president’s staff.

[Editor's Note: President Barrack Obama was not in attendance. He was on a fundraising tour, this time in California with a stop at actress Gywneth Paltrow's house.]

The Rotary members presented their projects, in hopes of creating new inroads for government partnerships and support.

“This is recognition of the great work that they do but also serves as a great vehicle to inspire others to do similar kinds of things,” said Rotary General Secretary John Hewko. “One of the things we’re doing a better job of is sharing our story to the non-Rotary world.”

The honorees were selected by Rotary senior leaders and endorsed by the White House from clubs around the U.S. but their projects touch lives across the globe.

Carolyn Jones, of Anchorage, AK, has served numerous times as a Rotary volunteer in Russia, three of them as a preschool teacher for developmentally delayed children in orphanages. During her presentation she lamented hearing about a child sold for a bottle of vodka, and vowed to use her honor as a stepping stone to save more lives.

Jacqueline Parsons, a licensed professional counselor from San Antonio, TX, works on projects in her community and abroad, including the FLAG (Fitness, Literacy, Attendance, and Grades) program, which provides incentives to students to go to school, including bikes, sports equipment, and other items.

Ginger Vann, from Baker, LA, coordinates tutoring for at-risk students. With the help of her club, she renovated an uninhabitable school building, and worked with tutors to reach 50 students each day. She’s also passionate about workforce development in Baker, where well-paying craftsman jobs often go unfilled. “We just don’t have enough craft workers, people who are certified to do the jobs,” she said.

Michelle Candland, from San Diego, CA, works with Monarch High, an alternative school designed for homeless children. “Right now there are over 1.3 million homeless kids on the street in America. That’s more than there are Rotarians around the world,” said Candland. “Twenty thousand of those kids are in San Diego alone. How can a child focus on school if their tummies are growling, their shoes don’t fit, and they don’t even know where they are going to be sleeping the next day? It takes an entire community to work together to solve this problem.”

Jane Winning, a registered nurse from Chowchilla, CA, has provided immunizations and health exams to more than 2,500 people in need across Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala. She also has worked with Rotaplast International to provide free cleft lip and palate reconstructive surgery to those who cannot afford it. “A gentleman was 65 years old and he said, ‘I can kiss my wife for the first time,'” Winning said of the man post-surgery. “Those are incredible experiences you don’t get to share every day.”

Carol Butler, also from Anchorage, AK, highlighted two projects. The first is a statewide suicide prevention plan. According to Butler, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the nation. The public awareness plan educates Rotary members and Alaska residents to recognize the warning signs of someone in crisis. She also talked about her club’s partnership with the Alaska Mission of Mercy, a collective of dentists, staff, and other volunteers who provide free dental services throughout the state. “Dental care is a gateway to good health,” says Butler. “There’s an increasing problem nationwide with people seeking dental care in emergency rooms.”

Elizabeth Usovicz, of Shawnee Mission, KS, has worked on service projects in Missouri as well as abroad. In Malawi, she helped to reduce the rate of malaria deaths by 65 to 70% in less than a year by supplying the community with mosquito bed nets.

Deepa Willingham, of Solvang, CA, is the founder and chair of Promise of Assurance to Children Everywhere (PACE), an organization that educates girls and their mothers, and works to prevent child trafficking and early marriage in India.

Marion Bunch, of Atlanta, GA, is the CEO of Rotarians for Family Health and AIDS Prevention. She has received numerous awards on behalf of her work for AIDS, and considers herself a mom who represents the face of AIDS because she started her work after losing her son to the disease in 1994. “Because of that one single tragedy, my life’s journey changed dramatically from a very engaged business woman to a warrior on AIDS and advocate of human rights,” Bunch said. As a result of her leadership, in April some 343,660 people received health care, medical checkups, and counseling from 8,150 Rotary volunteers during Rotary Family Health Days across Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa.

Bernadette Blackstock, of Franklinville, NJ, has turned her love of service into a career, launching the People for People Foundation, which assists families struggling with financial hardships. To date, the foundation has helped some 10,000 families afford food, clothing, rent, utilities, medications, and other life necessities. “Our combined mission today is not only to provide small grants but to serve as advocates for our families and provide life-skill training and mentoring and case management where needed.”


Meeting of 10/9/14: Common Core and other topics

Picture 3Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush
October 9, 2014

Attending (12): Bill Dowd, April Dowd, Murray Forth, Pat Bailey, Jim Leyhane, Terry Brewer, Peter Brown, Len Leonidas, Debbie Rodriguez, Dick Drumm, Jim Butterworth, Rommel Tolentino.

Guests (2): Brian Howard, Medora Jones.


Program: Brian Howard, State Senate candidate


Speaker Brian Howard.

Speaker Brian Howard.

Jim Butterworth introduced Brian Howard, Democratic candidate for the 43rd State Senate District that covers all of Rensselaer County and parts of Saratoga and Columbia counties. He is running against incumbent Republican Kathy Marchione.

Brian is a former longtime school administrator, having served in Queensbury, Berlin and Troy, among other districts.

He explained that he is running for office as a way of continue his lifelong efforts to improve the education of the next generation, and has no interest in a lengthy career in office.

Brian spent most of his talk on the problems of implementing the controversial Common Core program in schools. He said that, boiled down to its basics, it really is no more than a list of things to do, a list that can be tweaked but isn’t bad in itself. The problem as he sees it is the methodology of turning it into a mandatory program without proper input and consideration of teachers’ needs and various districts’ financial situations.

He said he would prefer to see a five-year, five-step program that would provide the ability to study the real-world impact of each step as it is experienced.

Brian also spoke about the loss of large numbers of teachers in Rensselaer County and other Upstate areas. Funding has been reduced in many upstate school districts.

Brian answered several questions from members on such topics as new teaching methods and Senate committee appointment potential. And, Brian said he believes political campaign financing must be changed to alleviate what he referred to as “corrupting influences” from so much money coming only from a small number of contributors.

He also said one of the major topics in his campaign is a reevaluation of the gun control measure known as the New York S.A.F.E. Act. He noted he grew up in the Adirondacks in a family of hunters in the Adirondacks, and owns a .22 rifle, shotgun and pistol. Brian said he would have voted against the S.A.F.E. Act, characterizing it as “a measure that has yet to prove that it will actually solve any real problems.” He said it must be replaced with common sense measures that keep guns out of the hands of the terrorists, criminals, and the mentally ill.

(A rundown of his his campaign positions is available online.)


ANNOUNCEMENTS/BUSINESS:

EVENT CANCELLATION — President Bill Dowd noted that all members had been e-mailed a letter containing the consensus of the Board that we should drop the annual Rotary Run due to increasing costs and competition and decreasing participation. He said he had heard from only three members, but all are in favor of the action. He asked if anyone present wished to ask questions or make comments. Getting no response, he asked for a show of hands on his motion to drop the Run. It was approved without objection.

EVENT CREATION – Debbie Brown has agreed to coordinate planning  a 55th anniversary celebration for the club in March 2015. April Dowd and Ray Hannan have volunteered to assist her, and Jim Mendrysa has been asked to help  in acquiring a one-time liquor license or the event since he does that regularly as part of his catering business.

FOUNDATION DINNER – Reservations are being accepted for the November 14 Rotary Foundation dinner, this year called “Broadway Lights Up Rotary.” It will be held on the main stage of Proctors Theater in Schenectady, with the meal from Mansion Catering. Bill noted he had made his reservation at the $100 honorary committee level several weeks ago. Murray Forth and Jim Leyhane both said they subsequently have done the same. Jim urged members to attend the event, which is a fundraiser to assist program grants at the local level. Other tickets are $75. Reservations may be made online on the District 7190 website.

ROTARY HOME COOKING — Program coordinator Terry Brewer said he has at least four dates spoken for. Bill and April Dowd will hold a March 21, 2o015, dinner with the theme of “A Night In Casablanca.” Jim Leyhane, in conjunction with A.J. Amato and Roberto Martinez, is working on a dinner with a professional chef, to be held at Roberto’s house. Murray and Maggie Forth are planning to host a sauerbraten dinner. Pat Bailey said she will host a dinner. The latter three events need to firm up dates, coordinating them with Terry. He originally had established October-April as the six months for such dinners.


NEXT MEETING: 6:15 p.m. Thursday, October 16. The speaker will be Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.


Rotary Run: The beginning of the end?

This letter was e-mailed to all club members on October 3.

To all SRC Rotarians:

We had a very productive meeting of the Southern Rensselaer County Rotary Club’s Board of Directors following the October 2 general meeting. Among major topics on the agenda were the matters of fundraisers traditionally undertaken by the Club, and new efforts that appear to be better options in these challenging times for service clubs in our society.

For example, the annual “Bowl Over Polio” event, now nearing its 4th year, and the “Simulator Spring Fling” golf event that we are expanding from one to three events this winter obviously have been successful even though the idea of the bowling event has been co-opted both by the District and by the Lansingburgh club. We also are putting renewed efforts into our “Rotary Home Cooking” series and already have several such events being put on the schedule.

In addition, we also have decided to streamline our previously annual “CPR Certification Day,” making it a biannual event since most people require certification renewal every two years and off-year attendance is low. Plus, we have several exciting ideas for efforts to add to our schedule which will be made known and discussed at future club meetings.

However, it is the unanimous consensus of the Board that we strongly consider ending the annual Rotary Run, which after 34 years seems to have run its course. Participation has steadily been dwindling, and the amount of money raised and the continually-rising costs of putting on the event now far outstrip the effort put into it.

When we began the Rotary Run in 1981, it was an unusual event. Since then, however, 5K runs and their ilk have become commonplace and we have seen a steady decline in the number of runners. In one month alone, we tracked 11 such events in the Capital Region. As one Board member noted, even the Oakwood Historic Cemetery in Troy has a 5K.

In essence, there is nothing that distinguishes our event from similar events even though in recent years we have (a) increased promotional efforts, (b) added professional timing services, (c) worked to increase financial support from local businesses, and (d) attempted to differentiate our event from competitive ones by the use of such things as a guest honorary starter who has decades of experience with the Boston Marathon.

To be blunt, we would have run a deficit in the past few years if not for the generosity of a small number of SRC members who dug deep into their own pockets to underwrite the cost of professional timing services and other attendant costs. There is no reason to think the same thing would not be necessary in 2015.

Thus, your Board has agreed that a wiser use of our talents and efforts would be to increase the number of targeted, smaller events with a higher upside potential rather than continue expending our efforts activities that have demonstrated a steadily-shrinking potential.

Naturally, we would like to have input from the general membership of SRC before a final decision is made. To that end, please let me know via e-mail if you have serious objections to ending the Rotary Run in favor of other efforts. Any details in support of your point of view would be helpful.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and efforts in support of our club’s efforts in the community.

Bill Dowd

SRC President 2014-15


10/2/14 meeting: Trouble in Rensselaer school

Picture 3Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush
October 2, 2014

Attending (12): Bill Dowd, April Dowd, Murray Forth, Pat Bailey, Jim Leyhane, Terry Brewer, Ray Hannan, Debbie Rodriguez, Charlie Foote, Dick Drumm, Jim Butterworth, Len Leonidas.

Guests (1): Peter Rehonis.


Program: The State of Rensselaer City Students


Peter Rehonis

Peter Rehonis

Our speaker was Peter Rehonis, a former priest who is the Director of Special Education for the Rensselaer City School District.

Peter spoke about the dire personal circumstances of many students in Rensselaer, where 76% of them are from families living below the federal poverty level. That makes the entire K-12 school of approximately 1,100 students eligible for free breakfast and lunch. Put another way, the number of Rensselaer kids on assistance is about five times the average figure in other districts.

Despite growing needs of the student population, Peter said, the district has lost 48% of its professional staff in recent years. Because the K-12 school is new — having been built after the city sold the former site to a developer to help fund a new facility — some people have the impression there is no problem. Inside the building, that is not the case.

Many of the kids have mental and emotional issues, but the school is down to just one psychologist. The cost of special education continues to climb even as staff and resources dwindle. For many programs, resources either are inadequate or non-existent.

Peter noted that special education, his area of expertise, has changed markedly in recent years. For example, rather than concentrating only on problem children the school is developing something called CDOS, which stands for Career Development and Occupational Studies. It is a four-year plan designed to help all students prepare to function in the real world and to obtain decent jobs through education, counseling, mock interview techniques, resume writing coaching, work-study activities and the like.

He distributed materials on “Work and Career Readiness,” nothing that the school needs people to work with kids to prepare them for life after school. He spoke about some of the activities in pre-K programs during the year.  Also needed are supplies such as backpacks for teens (not “cute” ones designed for younger kids), prescription eyeglasses, and gift cards to use as reward incentives. Another aid might be rides for families, especially returning from school/family activities (no buses are available after events).

April Dowd asked about Circles of Mercy, which our club strongly supports, and its  participation with clothing needs. Peter said he is familiar with that resource, but that its supplies are erratic and, in many case, the perceived stigma of getting clothes from a family services agency keeps students form utilizing the resource. Charlie Foote asked whether students could be loaned backpacks full of food to take home on weekends. Peter said there is no funding for such a program, and food supplied by grocery markets is sporadic.

And additional problem is the influx of poor immigrants, such as a growing Burmese community, moving into the city who have special needs such as learning English and acclimating to winter weather.

President Bill Dowd said that, while we can always help with some “band-aid” things, providing a kid with a meal only has an impact for that meal and there already are programs handling that. He asked if there was something our club could consider doing that would have a lingering positive impact. Peter said financial support for the Homework Club — an after-school on-campus resource that gives students a place to do their work in an atmosphere conducive to study rather than in a chaotic home atmosphere — would be helpful. Funding is needed to pay teachers to supervise such a program and to pay bus drivers for the after-hours effort necessary to get the kids home. Bill said the club would discuss ways we can help in the near future.


BUSINESS/ANNOUNCEMENTS

PUBLIC RELATIONS: President Bill noted that our club again was well-represented in Toolbox, the District’s monthly newsletter. For October we had a story and photo covering our special “Danny’s Night” event with our Gift of Life child, as well as the group photo we shot with Danny and our GOL guests.

ANNIVERSARY EVENT: Bill said that because our club will mark its 55th anniversary in March 2015, he would like to make it a special event. If you would like to be part of a planning committee, please contact him ASAP.

“POCKET CHANGE” FUNDRAISER: Bill reminded us that this year’s “Pocket Change For …” recipient will be The Great American Milk Drive. He encouraged members who have not already done so to check out the details on our website, which are accompanied by a two-minute video. Members are asked to contribute any pocket change (paper money, too, if they’re of that mind) each week to the “Pocket Change” jug. As he puts it, “Walk in jingling, leave quietly smiling.”

TRAINING: We still have only two members — Bill and April — registered for the October 18 Rotary Leadership Institute (RLI) at Siena College. He said that is a paltry number given the size of our club and urged people to consider participating.

ROTARY FOUNDATION DINNER: Reservations now are being accepted for the annual Rotary Foundation dinner, this year being held on the main stage at Proctors theater in Schenectady. Live entertainment, good food, and no stuffy speeches, as new District Governor Dave Hennel promised when he spoke to the club last week. Cost is just $75, and is open to non-Rotarians as well. Check the District website — http://rotary7190.org — for details .

ROTARY HOME COOKING:
Event coordinator Terry Brewer talked about re-energizing this home-hosted dinner series of fundraisers and offered signup sheets for those interested in holding such a dinner. He is hoping to enlist hosts for dinners in October, November, January, February, March and April, hopefully with a theme for each such event. Please contact Terry (via e-mail at  Tlbrewer12piseco@gmail.com or by phone at 221-4050) if you would like to reserve one of those months and let him know your theme as well as how many people you can handle. The usual group is 8-10, plus the hosts. … Jim Leyhane said he, A.J. Amato and Roberto Martinez would like to use one of the dates to hire a chef from Cafe Capriccio in Albany to cook for a group of 12-15 at Roberto’s home. He’ll work on details and coordinate the date with Terry.

NEW MEMBER: Murray Forth reported he had met with Shannon Romanowski, who succeeded Patrick Ciraulo at the YMCA and plans to replace him as a club member. Shannon said she will make her first appearance in the near future. Bill said he would send her a letter of welcome.


NEXT MEETING: 6:15 p.m. Thursday, October 9, at Quigley’s The after-dinner speaker will be state senate candidate Brian Howard on the controversial topic of the Common Core teaching curriculum.