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Young professionals bring their vision of Rotary to the table

By Sallyann Price

Evan Burrell, a member of the Rotary E-Club of Greater Sydney, New South Wales, Australia participated in Rotaract, RYLA, and Rotary's Group Study Exchange.

How will you make room for the next generation of young professionals and volunteers in your clubs? We asked Rotaractors and young Rotarians to weigh in on how it should work and what it will take to turn today's young leaders into tomorrow's Rotary members.

Here's an excerpt from the roundtable discussion.

What should older Rotary members understand about young people?

Alyssa Gapske, 22, Rotaract Club of Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA: A major difference is the way we connect. The greatest advantage of social media is that it allows us not only to share meeting and project details but also to communicate with clubs around the world. As a moderator of my club's Facebook page, I see messages every week from clubs hoping to work with us, or community members interested in attending meetings or joining our club.

Evan Burrell, 32, Rotary E-Club of Greater Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; past Rotaractor, RYLA participant, and GSE team member: Our spirit of community service is no different from that of older generations; we just have different methods. We're results-driven, we move quickly - some might think too quickly. We want to feel that our work has purpose when we participate in something, and we get frustrated when our ideas aren't considered just because they're unfamiliar.

Greg Garofolo, 44, Rotary Club of Sharon, Massachusetts, USA, and Rotary E-Club of New England; past Rotaractor and Rotary Youth Exchange student: The workplace has changed a lot: People commute longer distances or take a pay cut to work from home and spend more time with family. We're protective of our spare time and less willing to tolerate wasted time, like spending time in costly meetings discussing information that could be shared through email. Regardless of generation, gender, or vocation, our most valuable resource is the time we give to Rotary and one another.

These are difficult times for young people starting their careers. Can you be a Rotary member and still live in your parents' basement?

Kristi Breisach, 26, Rotaract Club of Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA: Trying to catch a break as a young professional feels like an uphill battle these days, but joining Rotary or Rotaract is one of the smartest things a recent college graduate can do. Being a Rotarian opens the door to professional connections as you rub elbows with the "who's who" of your community. You'll find great volunteer opportunities, and maybe it will lead to an unexpected professional opportunity.

Garofolo: Our members are facing hard times financially. This isn't just a young person's problem. But anyone can make a difference. Some can give more money, some can give more time and muscle, and others can give access to networks. We're a richer organization when we recognize all of these commitments.

What have you found helpful in your encounters with older Rotary members? Where is there friction?

Jennifer Petrichenko, 30, Rotaract Club of Cloverdale, British Columbia, Canada: I once asked a Rotarian how my Rotaract club could help with an upcoming project, and the event chair told me they could really use help with the coat check. A typical misconception is that Rotaractors are young and inexperienced. Some Rotarians I've met have had a hard time comprehending that I'm not a student and I'm in a professional career.

Holly Ransom, 23, Rotary Club of Crawley, Western Australia, Australia: Some of the best Rotarians I've encountered have been genuine believers in the capabilities of young people. They were willing to throw their support behind me as a young club president, invest their time in explaining Rotary's nuances to me, and offer me advice on everything from projects to finding the right people for leadership roles.

What trade-offs are you willing to make when dealing with older Rotary members? What's a deal breaker?

Krissie Bredin, 28, Rotaract Club of Crosslands, New South Wales, Australia; past RYLA participant: I have no problem with Rotarians targeting business and professional leaders for membership, but if you want to recruit younger members, you need to remember that Rotary has the power to make great leaders. For years I focused on my club's presidency and major Rotaract projects while my career took a back seat, which could make me a less appealing Rotary candidate. There are so many people who have the time and the passion to make a difference in the world - they just need Rotarians to believe in them and give them that opportunity.

Gapske: We may not have the same experiences or resources yet, but we're adults just like the Rotarians we meet, and they can help us. It never, ever helps to talk down to us. Our generation may have a reputation for laziness and entitlement, but that doesn't mean we as individuals have those qualities. In fact, it's often the opposite for young people in Rotary.

Ransom: We have a lot of energy and passion and a burning desire to make a difference. We don't want to be patronized or micromanaged. We'll tolerate positive club traditions and different ways of serving, even if some projects don't particularly excite us. But Rotarians shouldn't be too critical of a young person trying a new approach. It'll be a different leadership style because we don't have 30 years of experience, but be constructive: Rotary provides an incredible vehicle for us to learn and grow, and we're hungry for the wisdom and experience of older Rotarians.

Will you be a Rotary member in 20 years?

Breisach: As Rotaractors approach the end of the Rotaract age range, I sense a bit of panic. We try to visualize ourselves in what we call the "grown-up Rotary" and keep coming to the same questions: Will it be a good fit for us? Do we see ourselves surrounded by white-haired executives in suits? Can we imagine going from a small hands-on club to an enormous check-writing club? I'm not sure what my life will be like in 20 years, but I hope that Rotary will be part of it. I've spoken to my grandfather about this; he's been trying to recruit me to his club ever since I became president of my Rotaract club. Not quite yet, Grandpa.

Andera Tirone, 28, Rotaract Club of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; past RYLA participant and Ambassadorial Scholar: When I applied for an Ambassadorial Scholarship, one of the questions asked of me was, "Where do you see yourself in relation to Rotary in the future?" My answer: "This is for life." I was already a Rotaractor and the prospect of becoming a Rotarian had always appealed to me. I definitely have "I need to leave Rotary" days, but I also have "I need to leave my job" days and "I need to leave Toronto" days. Of all those things, I'm least likely to leave the Rotary family.

Petrichenko: It'll happen in good time. I'm a Rotaractor by name, Rotarian at heart.

This story originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of The Rotarian under the title "Regeneration: A Fresh Start for Rotary"

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